Coronavirus: first Australian campus shutdown

Education disruptions becoming the ‘norm’ as staff, students and visitors test positive

March 10, 2020
branch closed
Source: iStock

Australia has recorded its first coronavirus-related campus closure, after a staff member visiting from overseas tested positive to the virus.

Southern Cross University has shuttered campuses in two states after the man, from the Philippines, was diagnosed with the illness after his return home. Southern Cross has a marketing arm in the Philippines.

The university said the staff member had attended workshops at its campuses in Coolangatta in southern Queensland and the northern New South Wales centre of Lismore for five days in early March. He had come into contact or close proximity with at least 45 people before leaving Australia on 7 March.

Southern Cross’s vice-president for operations, Allan Morris, said the campuses would be closed on 11 March “for cleaning and as a general precaution”.

“Our priority at all times is the well-being of our staff, students and visitors,” Mr Morris said. “We apologise for this short disruption but it is the right thing to do.”

The decision reflects the rapid escalation of coronavirus disruptions in Australia. Late last week, several universities told Times Higher Education that they were making preparations for campus closures but doubted that such plans would be needed.

In Sydney, an annual workshop on cardiovascular research, scheduled for 11 March by the George Institute for Global Health, has been postponed until later in the year because of concerns over assembling large groups of people.

The state health department said it was tracking students and staff at a Sydney campus of the public vocational training provider, TAFE NSW, after it discovered that a confirmed Covid-19 sufferer had attended the college for two days while potentially infectious.

“Although it has been more than 14 days since the last day of attendance by the confirmed case, NSW Health has been contacting all other students and teachers in these classes,” the department said in a statement. It had so far reached 20 of the 21 known “contacts”, with all reporting good health.

A Sydney high school closed on 6 March and two more closed on 9 March after students were diagnosed with the virus. New South Wales health authorities said they expected school closures to become the “norm” in coming weeks.

Southern Cross said it had now banned staff and students from travelling overseas “anywhere in the world unless it is absolutely essential”.

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