Student isolation in university hostels cruel and unusual

Mon, 21 Feb, 2022

“The requirement for students in university hostels to isolate, unable to leave their rooms shows how absurdly unbalanced our COVID response has become,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“I am hearing from parents of students being effectively imprisoned for 24 hours, unable to go out even to exercise due to being contacts of COVID cases. This is occurring at multiple hostels at different universities, and is apparently due to hostel managers following Ministry of Health guidelines.

“I am also hearing from students at halls such as University Hall, Tupānuku and College House at the University of Canterbury that students are only allowed to leave their room to go to the bathroom, for seven days. If they test positive or there is another contact then the period can be extended further.

“Other students report, ‘people are refusing to get tested because they don’t want to get locked up, they are losing faith in the system.’

“These students are being forced to miss their first week of university while on lockdown, often they are young people living away from home for the first time. It is a deeply distressing situation that the Government needs to justify on the grounds of demonstrable public health benefits.

“Once again there seems to be no cost benefit analysis on these rules. How much will forcing these people to isolate slow the spread? What effect will isolating 17 and 18 year olds, who are at low risk as an age group, have on hospitalisation? What goals is the Government seeking to achieve with these policies?

“The isolation rules are no different to those faced by all New Zealanders who are deemed close contacts. However, they are felt acutely by students in university hostels because they live close together and are isolated to small rooms. Some are forced to isolate in conditions that would be illegal if they were convicted criminals in prison, who are alllowed out for an hour’s exercise each day. Others are required to isolate on their floor for a week.

“One thing that would help is the widespread availability of Rapid Antigen Tests. ACT says if you test negative you should be free to go, but with the Government having first banned Rapid Antigen Tests, then letting select people import them, then confiscated those that were allowed, Rapid Antigen Tests are scarcely available.

“The Government needs to front and at the very least modify the rules so that these students can leave the building to exercise or, better still, change the isolation rules for everyone.”