A global reputation taskforce established last month has warned Australia’s education sector faces an $8bn hit from the spread of the coronavirus.
The virus – which has infected 17,238 people in 24 countries – has killed 361 people since it was first detected on December 31, 2019. According to the latest figures, 2,148 people are in a serious or critical condition.
With 12 confirmed cases in Australia, the Federal Government is taking no chances. Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan recently announced a raft of measures to contain the spread of the virus in Australia, including restricting the travel of those coming from mainland China.
Minister Tehan recently convened the taskforce that monitors and advises the Federal Government on the effects of the bushfire crisis on the education sector but which is now helping the government and education sector navigate and respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
Taskforce chair Phil Honeywood told the Sydney Morning Herald the entry ban on non-citizens who had been in mainland China was a worst-case scenario for universities, English-language colleges and schools relying on the arrival of 200,000 Chinese students this year.
“Most of the new and continuing students have been caught off guard because many were brought home to celebrate Chinese new year,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“The industry is worth $39 billion a year and if we take Chinese students out of that equation for first semester, you would be looking at a minimum $8 billion budget hit for the international education sector and the wider economy”.
Over the weekend, Minister Tehan also held a meeting with the peak body representing Australian universities, which rely on about 150,000 students from mainland China.
The National Security Committee of Cabinet (NSC) considered advice provided by the Australian Public Health Crisis Committee (AHPPC), which included that all travellers arriving out of mainland China be asked to self-isolate for a period of 14 days from the time they leave mainland China.
Another measure to be implemented is the reduction in the volume of travellers coming from mainland China.
“AHHPC recommends additional border measures be implemented to deny entry to Australia to people who have left mainland China from 1 February, with the exception of Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family and air crews who have been using appropriate personal protective equipment,” Minister Tehan said.
“This also applies to transit passengers who are not Australian Citizens or permanent residents”.
Australia's largest university, Monash, has already announced it will postpone the start of the academic year to March 16 for all students.
‘A public health emergency’
Meanwhile, Minister Tehan is meeting with the board of Universities Australia today to discuss options to work with the sector to minimise the impacts of this decision on Australia’s international education providers.
“I have also asked the Council for International Education’s Global Reputation Taskforce to convene on Monday to discuss this advice and any necessary responses,” Minister Tehan said.
The Federal Government will work with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Australian Skills Quality Authority to ensure providers can offer on-line and remote alternatives while the advice of the AHPPC remains in place.
“I appreciate the willingness of the university sector to work with the government to manage this public health emergency. The safety of all Australians remains our Government’s number one priority,” Minister Tehan said.
University makes a breakthrough
As schools and universities take extra measures to ensure to safety of their students and staff, the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) reportedly made a breakthrough in finding a cure to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak.
UniMelb’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity – which was formed through UniMelb’s joint venture with the Royal Melbourne Hospital – announced this week that it has successfully grown nCoV from an Australian patient sample which they received on 24 January.
Doherty Institute’s Virus Identification Laboratory head Dr Julian Druce said that the replication of the virus can allow a more accurate investigation and diagnosis of the epidemic as they can use it to validate all their test methods. This is the first replication of the new strain done outside China.
The replicated virus, which can be sent to the various laboratories both in Australia and overseas that are working with the World Health Organisation, will serve as a way to ensure the consistency and quality of testing amid the race to find a vaccine or cure.