The Ministry of Education has told school hostels that they must have facilities to isolate students at risk of having coronavirus.

New advice posted on the ministry website today says hostels “may need to give consideration to the number of boarders and the facilities” they have to isolate students during their 14-day quarantine period after returning to, or arriving in New Zealand.

But Auckland student accommodation manager John Chen says the advice is “unrealistic” because hostel staff do not have protective clothing to keep safe when providing food or cleaning the rooms of students placed in isolation.

“In China they sent in 1230 medical staff [to Wuhan] because the local doctors, about 50 per cent, got sick and a few died,” Chen said.

Princeton Apartments at 30 Symonds St are one of three student blocks managed by John Chen of Mu Management. Photo / Supplied

International media have reported that one doctor, Liang Wudong, aged 62, died on January 25 after catching the virus.

The Education Ministry has advised schools, tertiary institutes and early childhood centres to ask any student or staff member who has “recently been to China or been in close contact with someone confirmed with the virus” to stay away from classes for 14 days.

Some homestay families have said that they are unable or unwilling to look after students during their 14-day quarantine period.

The ministry’s new advice says schools must make alternative arrangements for such students.

“Should homestay carers be unwilling to take a student who has returned from China until after the stay home period the school will need to find a short-term solution until the 14 days has ended,” it says.

“Any short-term accommodation should still be in safe accommodation with carers who have been subject to police checks, etc, as set out in the Code.” (The Pastoral Care of International Students Code was amended last year).

The advice notes that school hostels are required by regulations to “ensure that the hostel has available an area and facilities suitable for the temporary isolation and care of at least one sick boarder”.

Chen said the three student apartment blocks that he manages – Columbia, Empire and Princeton – do not have either isolation facilities or staff equipped to look after students placed in isolation.

“I can’t accommodate them because I don’t have the necessary facilities. You need care workers, you need to disinfect the room 10 times a day,” he said.

“If you isolate them, you have to give them food and water, so you have to have a caretaker. You are asking for trouble.”

“I’m not going to put my staff into harm’s way,” he said.

Chen sent a male student from Hubei Province, where the epidemic started, to Auckland City Hospital on Tuesday because he was coughing when he arrived. That student is believed to be still in hospital awaiting test results.

Chen said he also sent a female student from Shanghai to the hospital on Wednesday because she had a high temperature. He was angry when she came back at 11pm after the hospital discharged her.

“We had to house her in a studio apartment, which now I have to disinfect. It’s going to cost me $500 or $1000,” he said.

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves, who has about 250 international students from China, said on Wednesday that only one homestay family so far had declined to look after a student for the quarantine period.

“What would be a concern would be if we have a groundswell of resistance from homestay families to hosting these kids. We would have nowhere to put them,” he said.

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves has discussed placing students in motels or the school pavilion if homestay families pull out. Photo / File

“If this causes distress with homestay families we would be looking at situations like hosting them in motels or the school pavilion or something like that. We have discussed this as a possibility.”

Lis Whelan of Lake Panorama Student Homestays, which works with several West Auckland schools, said four families had withdrawn from hosting a group of Korean students who are arriving for a short-term stay this weekend, because of the virus.

“Two have very young children. One has an 83-year-old grandmother in the house,” she said.

But she has found other families to replace them.

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor said he had had no issues with homestay families and the school hostel had “an area where students can be isolated in a separate building to dormitories”.

Paul Curry, of ACG Schools – whose ACG Parnell College has the third biggest number of international students in NZ – said the organisation was “in constant communication with our homestay hosts”.

“As you would expect some of the homestay hosts have expressed concerns and we are managing those concerns,” he said. “All of our students are being cared for through our network of registered homestay hosts.”

Education Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said one school had contacted the ministry about “alternative accommodation and care arrangements for some international students whose arranged homestay has fallen through”.

“We encourage any school facing challenges with accommodation for international students to contact their local Ministry of Education regional office,” she said.

“Regarding Mr Chen’s scenario about students placed in isolation needing food delivered and their apartments cleaned by people using protective clothing, the Ministry of Health has not recommended isolation or quarantine during a possible 14-day incubation period.

“The advice is to stay at home. Ministry of Health clarified this afternoon what that means.

“That is largely staying at home, avoiding crowds but you can go out for a walk, and in particular, you need to take standard hygiene precautions.

“The Ministry of Health advice is that anyone with symptoms should seek immediate medical help.”

 

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