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11 February 2020

Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern


Prime Minister

Via email: Jacinda.ardern@parliament.govt.nz

Dear Prime Minister

Re: Urgent – China travel ban

The Vice-Chancellors of all New Zealand universities are writing to urge you not to extend the
current travel ban on visitors from China when it expires on 16 February or, alternatively, to
temporarily exempt tertiary students from China from the travel ban.
On 5 February we wrote to you expressing our concerns about the impact of the travel ban on
visitors (including students) from China to New Zealand following the outbreak of the novel
coronavirus. Time is fast running out for the universities to enrol the 12,000 equivalent full-time
students from China that we were expecting to enrol in 2020 and on whom our financial viability and
the employment of thousands of staff depends.
We are writing to you again because of the urgency of the situation. We do not believe that
extending the travel ban on Chinese students is in the best interests of public health, and it is
inconsistent with the interests of the universities and the wider New Zealand economy.
The World Health Organisation continues to advise against travel bans. Experts in our institutions
and further afield support the view that travel bans are counter-productive to disease control and at
best briefly delay the onset of outbreaks. Travel bans encourage travellers not to disclose their travel
history, compromising border control procedures and the ability of border control officials to
properly advise and follow-up potentially infected travellers and those in-contact with them. Travel
bans encourage countries to under-report their case numbers to avoid punitive travel sanctions –
compromising risk assessments. They impede the flow of the people, medicine and equipment
necessary to control the outbreak at source. They create economic damage and they stigmatize
entire races of people, in this case those of Asian heritage including Asian-New Zealanders.
New Zealand still has no reported cases of coronavirus onshore despite maintaining an open border
with China for months while this outbreak was developing in Hubei Province. It will not have
escaped your attention that countries like the UK and Canada (which incidentally provide alternative
study options for our students) have not instituted travel bans. Reported cases in countries like the
USA, UK, Canada, and Australia are very low, whether or not they have instituted travel bans. This is
not surprising given that the reported prevalence of coronavirus infection in the worst affected
province in China has yet to reach 0.05% and it is even lower in the major cities like Beijing and
Shanghai (less than 0.0015%).
Given this very low reported prevalence, the risk to public health from the admission of Chinese
students to New Zealand is correspondingly very low. For example, the majority of the 12,000
tertiary students due to arrive from China will come from major metropolitan areas like Beijing and
Shanghai, meaning that the likelihood of an infected student arriving in New Zealand is currently less
than one student in that cohort of 12,000. University student and staff populations are by and large
not part of the at-risk population for serious coronavirus infections.
Importantly, universities all have pandemic plans, student health services, and deep experience in
managing infectious disease outbreaks including, most recently, influenza and measles. Compliance
with the current Ministry of Health guidelines for isolation of travellers from China will be achieved
and we would welcome auditing of compliance as considered appropriate by the Ministry of health.
The New Zealand travel restrictions have excluded New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and
their immediate family, or Australian citizens and permanent residents if they ordinarily reside in
New Zealand. Our Chinese students are no more likely than the New Zealanders and Australians
returning from China to carry coronavirus. Chinese government officials have conveyed to us their
extreme disappointment at this apparently discriminatory action from a country they had regarded
as a friend. Meanwhile, it is doing incalculable damage to our export education sector, as well as to
other export industries, and to our relationship with China.
We call on you not to extend the current travel ban on visitors from China when it expires on 16
February or, alternatively, to temporarily exempt Chinese tertiary students from the travel ban.

Yours sincerely

Professor Grant Guilford, Derek McCormack


Chair Committee of International Programmes, Chair, Universities New Zealand
Universities New Zealand

Cc: Hon Chris Hipkins, Minister for Education

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