New Zealand's biggest university will run all courses remotely until Semester 2 starts in July - regardless of the Covid-19 alert level - fearing moving in and out of different alert levels will be too disruptive.
University of Auckland vice-chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater told students last Thursday this would remain the case in alert level 3 or even in the unlikely event New Zealand moved quickly to alert level 2.
"The rationale for this decision is that there is more to consider than just the alert level – we also need to take into account the stability of the alert level and the practicalities of re-opening our campuses," Freshwater said.
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The Government has made it clear that if Covid-19 cases increased again during level 3, the country would quickly return to level 4 - and a lockdown.
That meant there was a "significant risk" that the university would reopen campuses only to have to close again at short notice, Freshwater said.
Cabinet will be deciding on Monday April 20 whether to move out of the level 4 lockdown next Wednesday night. That decision will be based on whether the lockdown has worked to control our infection rates - a good possibility based on current trends.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced just 17 new possible and confirmed cases of Covid-19, bringing the total to 1366 for New Zealand. Of those, 628 people have recovered, and nine people died.
Freshwater told students that although some campus-based activities could resume at level 3, they would still be subject to stringent physical distancing and limited group sizes, which would be severely disruptive.
"There is also an important equity concern here. Some staff and students will find it much more difficult than others – due to personal circumstances, home environments and other factors – to shift between on-campus and off-campus modes of work and study. We need to make sure we do not unfairly disadvantage some people over others."
Freshwater said it could take up to 10 days for all campuses to make the practical arrangements to reopen, even if there was very limited activity on campus.
"To take that step, we would need to be very sure that there was little or no risk of returning imminently to a level 4 closure."
Freshwater said possible exceptions were "allowable" at level 3, such as certain postgraduate activities. But these would only be permitted if the university was sure requirements like physical distancing could be met.
This could include a small amount of research on campus - but "caution will be needed as any time-sensitive work can only be undertaken when the return to Level 3 is stable and likely to last", Freshwater said.
More details of the plan for level 3 and 2 would be shared in coming weeks, she said.
"We will plan for a full resumption of on-campus activities from the start of Semester 2 if we are at a sustained level 2 or below. Otherwise the plans outlined above will continue to apply."
The Herald is seeking comment from the Auckland University Students' Association about the effects of the decision on students.
University of Auckland's plans for each alert level
Alert level 4
Campuses close, remote learning as currently.
Alert level 3 As for level 4, plus some teaching and learning on campus if the university is confident level 3 is stable and sustainable. Research activity allowed where approved by deans, assuming health and safety restrictions can be met.
Alert level 2 Campuses re-opened for all activities (but no earlier than beginning of Semester 2) but with physical distancing and other precautionary measures.
Alert level 1 Same as for Level 2.