Wednesday 26 August 2020
A message from the Vice‑Chancellor
I hope this message finds you and your whānau safe and healthy. You will be aware that the Prime Minister announced on Monday that New Zealand will remain at Alert Level 2 until at least 6 September. Auckland will remain at Alert Level 3 until 11.59pm on 30 August, moving to an amended version of Alert Level 2 from Monday 31 August. There are no known COVID‑19 cases in Dunedin, Christchurch or Wellington.
With all this news in mind, I thought it was timely to let you know what the current situation means for us here at Otago.
Teaching and exams
The extension of Alert Levels means that after mid‑semester break ends our teaching timetable will remain operating under Alert Level 2 conditions for at least a week. Staff will communicate the changed timetable to students through the usual channels.
Life at Alert Level 2 for us means that many of our large‑class lectures are being conducted on‑line. Small‑class lectures, labs, and tutorials are largely proceeding face‑to‑face with appropriate social distancing and contact tracing measures which are also in place throughout all of our campuses, including in our residential colleges. The decision about which particular classes are online is based on both class size and on the availability of lecture theatres that can accommodate appropriate social distancing, irrespective of the size of the class. We understand that students prefer face‑to‑face teaching (and so do we), but we are also mindful of the current public health guidelines.
The exam period for semester 2 begins on 14 October. Students can now access the exam timetable which is on the University of Otago website. The timetable will be available in eVision by the end of this week. If we are at Alert Level 2 or higher for exams, the timetable will remain the same but the exam delivery and/or location information may change. Information will be sent to students as soon as possible should that be necessary.
Student travel and return to campus
The Prime Minister has announced that from midnight on Sunday 30 August it will be a requirement to wear face-coverings or masks on public transport for all New Zealanders including taxis, Ubers, buses and planes at Alert Level 2, 3 and 4.
We suggest that all students coming back to our campuses do their bit to minimise the risk of COVID‑19 transmission by wearing masks in the above situations from now on. Obviously from midnight on Sunday doing so will become mandatory.
The University remains open under Alert Level 2 and it is expected that students who left for mid-semester break will return for classes as soon as they are reasonably able to do so. Classes will recommence on 31 August for most students.
Please note the following Government guidelines:
- There are no restrictions on travel between regions at Alert Level 2
- You can travel from an Alert Level 3 area to an Alert Level 2 area (i.e., out of Auckland) if you are returning to your primary home — please carry proof of address if you are doing this
- You should not cross the boundary out of Auckland if you have cold or flu‑like symptoms, have been directed to self‑isolated, or are awaiting testing or test results
There are specific requirements for students returning to campus who feel unwell when they return to their college or other accommodation:
- If a student has respiratory symptoms, they should contact Student Health, Healthline or the Dunedin Urgent Doctors for advice and let their college know they are unwell
- Student Health / Healthline / Dunedin Urgent Doctors will determine if a surveillance swab is required
- If a surveillance swab is taken, there is no need to self‑isolate until the swab result is back, however, the student should stay away from lectures, social gatherings, etc., until they are well
- As always, practise good respiratory hygiene
Contact tracing continues to be a vital tool should any further outbreaks of COVID‑19 occur. Students are asked to continue playing their part in this, through the use of Wi‑Fi enabled on phones and mobile devices, scanning QR codes or manually signing into buildings.
You may know already that this Saturday’s graduation ceremony (29 August) and associated events have been cancelled. Those who were scheduled to graduate in person will now graduate in absentia, and we are making arrangements to celebrate their achievements via a ceremony at a later time. On Saturday graduands will still be welcome to wear their regalia, collect their degree certificates and visit the campus with their friends and whānau. Nonetheless, we understand how disappointing this is for everyone.
Support and how you can help
I want to reassure you that the University is dedicated to supporting our students and staff. You can follow our website for updates on information about COVID‑19.
Our colleges, our students and our staff continue to support each other. We are incredibly proud of how our entire student community has adapted and we are looking forward to seeing this camaraderie and resilience continue as we head into Spring.
The University will continue to follow guidance from the New Zealand Government. There are a few key messages the University is communicating with students and staff to help stop the spread of COVID‑19:
- Avoid close contact with people with cold or flu‑like illnesses
- Cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing
- Students and staff should stay home if they are unwell
- Wear a mask if you are on public transport
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap and dry them thoroughly before eating or handling food, after using the toilet, after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose or wiping someone else’s, and after caring for sick people
We ask that you continue to reinforce these messages with your young people. This has been an incredible year for our Otago community, but as a community, we continue to be strong and resilient. Thank you for everything that you are doing to support us and our students in the fight against COVID‑19.
Nāku noa, nā,
Professor Harlene Hayne