Federal and state health departments have advised people who have been in contact with an infected person not to attend school, but said that others who have been to China and are showing no symptoms do not need to be isolated.
“If students have come from China but are well then it is reasonable for them to attend school,” University of Sydney Professor Tania Sorrell, who is the director of the Marie Bashir Institute of Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, said.
“But if they have been in contact with a known case, then of course they should not attend school for up to 14 days, at which time if they are asymptomatic, then it is fine for them to go to school.”
Coronavirus has killed 81 people and infected almost 3000, on the latest statistics from Chinese authorities. Thousands more are under observation in China — particularly in the province of Hubei, where the virus originated — and internationally.
Health authorities confirmed on Monday that one international student, a Chinese woman studying at the University of NSW, had the virus.
In a statement, UNSW said the woman “did not attend any classes at the university and stayed on her own in campus accommodation with no close contact before she was admitted to hospital”.
International education is Australia’s third largest export market, worth $37 billion annually.
The sector is already worried about taking a financial hit from the bushfires, which dented Australia’s image as a clean and safe destination to study.
Mr Tehan said the government had expanded the remit of its reputation taskforce, which was originally charged with ensuring that the bushfire crisis was perceived accurately overseas, to also include the affect of coronavirus.
“We want to make sure that we are continuing to send a message that Australia is open for international students, whether it be for our schools, our universities, our vocational providers or private higher education providers,” he said.
China has blocked people from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, and other cities in the area from travelling. Mr Tehan said the government was trying to work out how many students would be barred from getting to Australian universities as a result.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.