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Otago welcomes students back, seeking “collective responsibility”

Friday 15 May 2020 11:27am

Police and OUSA join calls for students to stay safe

The University of Otago is delighted to welcome back students to all its campuses and colleges after they played a major role, and made their own sacrifices, when the nation united against COVID-19.

As thousands of students return to Otago in the coming days and weeks, the University seeks their ongoing “collective responsibility” and support to prevent the virus from sneaking stealthily back into society, only to cause further disruption.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says that no student will want this to happen, and she is confident the collective will is there from our “team of 20,000” to continue the fight against COVID-19. The way Otago students responded to the crisis is testament to their enduring and historic sense of community.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the way Otago students stepped up in the fight against Covid-19, just as they have in past crises this nation has known.

“Students did what was asked of them, even though staying at home and out of social contact to help break the chain of transmission would have been enormously challenging.

“Those who stayed in colleges and diligently kept to their bubbles – it wouldn’t have been easy, but you have made us all proud. My gratitude extends to our students around New Zealand in flats in Dunedin, Wellington and Christchurch, and those who went to live with their families or relatives; and the many international students who stayed thousands of miles from their families just to continue to study with us.”

Professor Hayne understands that for many, the special Otago experience, the process of making friends and “having the time of your lives”, came to an abrupt but temporary halt in late March.

“But without a word of complaint, wherever students were in New Zealand and even for some, overseas, our people kept on task, adapted so well to online learning, and showed the greatest social responsibility of their lifetimes. Students stayed in touch and supported each other.”

Professor Hayne says the University’s collective goal to help the nation stay free of COVID-19 is not yet over.

“Students can see each other again and get together, and we share your excitement. However students are returning to a new normal of social distancing, conscious of hygiene in all that they do, and gatherings of no more than 10 at a time. This in itself might be challenging while we remain in Level 2, with the prospect of further easing of restrictions, and bigger gatherings, as a goal to strive for.”

Gatherings in public spaces such as gardens, streets and sports grounds will not be permitted.

Professor Hayne adds that a “very quiet” Campus Watch will be pleased, along with all staff, to see Dunedin students return. She encouraged students to make the round-the-clock Campus Watch patrols easier by sticking to the no-large-party or gathering rules (of 10 or under) – one of the Government conditions of being in Level 2.

This means students can have gatherings of up to 10 in their flats, observing social distancing and careful hygiene rules, and catching up with each other.

“We are grateful that this is even permissible and students can get together. We completely understand your excitement, but we ask you to be smart, and also think about the greater good,” she urges.

Professor Hayne says that if students become unwell “in the slightest” with any flu-like symptoms, they should follow the Ministry of Health guidelines, tell someone, but stay home and contact the numbers below. They should not be afraid to request a swab COVID-19 test.

Police are also pleased to see students returning to the city, and will continue with their “graduated approach” to helping Level 2 conditions remain adhered to. Dunedin-based Aviation Security staff will be assisting police patrols in Dunedin in the weeks ahead, and this includes in the North end, where they will assist and link up with Campus Watch.

Area Prevention Manager Inspector Wil Black says the Police approach is to “engage, encourage, educate and enforce” to ensure that the community stays safe from the threat of COVID-19.

“The students are our heart and soul and it will be great to have them back. We are all in this together and Police are as invested in this as anyone else is. We all just want to get through it,” he says.

OUSA President Jack Manning says OUSA is also looking forward to seeing students back on campus.

“We are excited to welcome students back to campus. Just like during lockdown, we continue to be here to support and advocate for students, whether they are in Dunedin or elsewhere,” he says.

If you feel unwell and develop symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath, tell someone, and contact:

  • Otago and Southland regions:
    0800 VIRUS19 (0800 847 8719) – a new centralised call service and free phone number helping streamline assessment and possible testing for COVID 19 in the Southern region (Dunedin, Invercargill, and Queenstown).

If you are a student and you are referred to a Community-Based Assessment Centre (CBAC) for testing, please advise AskOtago on 0800 808 098 or +64 3 479 7000.

For more information, contact:

Joanne Galer
Team Leader Media Engagement
Communications Office
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 8263