2020 and 2021 have been challenging years in terms of international mobility for both our staff and students due to the disruption caused by the global pandemic, COVID-19.
New Zealand borders have been closed to all but New Zealand citizens and permanent residents since 19 March 2020 and the official government travel site, Safe Travel is still posting a “Do Not Travel” warning for all New Zealanders considering travelling overseas except for the limited bubbles that are open with some of our Pacific neighbours.
Not only are there concerns about the continued spread of the virus, particularly the Delta variant, and widespread travel restrictions, but also the requirement for all travellers to meet managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) requirements upon return to New Zealand. Our University community that are not New Zealand citizens or permanent residents are faced with even greater travel challenges.
University Travel in 2021
When UC imposed its travel restrictions in June 2020, it did so to align with the government advisory but also to give effect to the following: environmental sustainability; financial constraints; insurance; and travel risk. These reasons are not significantly different today (November 2021) from when the UC travel restrictions were first imposed in 2020.
The current restrictions that will remain in place for the remainder of 2021 are as set out in the following table:
Travel insurance remains problematic. COVID-related insurance cover is complex and limited. Under the UC corporate travel insurance programme, there is coverage for emergency medical treatment (including pandemic disease such as COVID-19) but the important point is that the cover only applies “provided the insured person did not commence their journey against the New Zealand government’s advice or against local government advice at their overseas destination.” While NZ has a ‘DO NOT TRAVEL” in place for most of the globe, the cover is not an option.
Travel risks remain high both in respect to the impact and likelihood of pandemic disruption for a UC traveller. This situation is, however, not sustainable and the following principles and risk mitigations will guide travel decisions in 2022.
University Travel in 2022
The New Zealand government announced a road map for reconnecting New Zealanders with the rest of the world which includes an acceleration of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, self-isolation trials for vaccinated returning Kiwis, and no MIQ for low-risk travellers. The expectation is that the world will be divided into three categories – low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk. As at mid-August 2021, for example, Fiji would be deemed a high-risk country and the Cook Islands a low-risk country. The spread of the delta variant since August has, however, changed the travel risk landscape and the road map may not be applied in 2022 now. This risk-based approach can and will be used by the University of Canterbury to inform decision-making about whether individual travel plans should be approved or not in 2022.
Guiding principles for 2022 UC student travel decisions are as follows:
- Government advice will guide all decision-making at UC in relation to travel and may change with minimal notice.
- It is expected that UC students travelling internationally are fully vaccinated, except in exceptional circumstances. Note: it is anticipated that this will be mandated by the airlines in early 2022.
- Students travelling for international study and global engagement will be enabled as much as practically feasible.
- Outbound student mobility with exchange partners will be prioritised for countries that offer a high standard of pastoral support and reciprocal medical care.
- New parameters on travel will be set in early 2022 that align to the University’s sustainability goals but these have yet to be determined and will be informed by the results of the travel survey recently conducted.
- Travel to low-risk countries will be prioritised over medium-risk and high-risk countries (as deemed by NZ government guidelines).
- All flight bookings should be flexi-fares and secured through Orbit, our travel management partner.
- All students travelling for international study and global engagement reasons are required to purchase comprehensive travel insurance before departure; noting that this is already a requirement for any formal exchanges.
- All students travelling for international study and global engagement reasons (international exchanges, study tours) must attend a pre-departure orientation which will address travel risks in the COVID-19 context.
- All students travelling for international study and global engagement reasons (international exchanges, study tours) will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks inherent in travelling and assuming financial responsibility for potential disruption to travel, COVID-19 related insurance exclusions, and possible programme impacts.
Note: there is an expectation with travel in the pandemic environment that should an outbreak or change in status occur, it is understood that students may need to remain in place and be prepared to do so (logistically and financially). UC would not necessarily be in a position to bring students home if unable to return, due to, for example, border and MIQ restrictions.
- UC will not pay any MIQ fees for student travel.
- Any additional costs (e.g., accommodation, living, vehicle rental) incurred due to a lockdown in the destination country or in New Zealand will not be covered by UC for students travelling.
To assist with decision-making about whether a travel plan should proceed or not, the following questions should be considered:
- Is the travel essential? Could the purpose for the travel be achieved via other means? Where relevant, what was the work-around during the lockdown period in 2020 and could this be utilised again?
- Is the travel to a high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk country (COVID ratings) as per New Zealand Government guidelines?
- Is the student travelling on a New Zealand passport or has permanent residency status (students travelling on international passports may not be able to get back into New Zealand if border restrictions are imposed)?
- Is the student fully vaccinated?
- Is the student immunocompromised or at greater risk if they contract COVID-19?
- Does the destination country have a high standard of healthcare available?
- Is reciprocated healthcare and/or free hospital care available in the destination country for COVID illness.
- Has insurance been purchase and is the student traveller aware of its limitations in relation to COVID cover?
- For formal exchanges, does the receiving programme / institution have clear cancellation policies that, for example, protect students who must pay upfront for housing or study fees in the event that the trip is cancelled and there is no insurance response.
- Does the student have contacts in the destination country?
- Has the student visited the destination before and is familiar with the environs, services, accommodation, and health services
- Is the purpose for the travel going to be achievable in the destination country, given its present COVID status?
Where the response to the questions above is no or negative, it is important to consider:
a. What could go wrong?
b. What is the impact and likelihood if things do go wrong?
c. What possible controls could be put in place prior to travelling to mitigate the impacts if the risk is realised?
If the outcome of such an assessment is that the travel plan has a high degree of risk, i.e., a red (or even amber) risk rating then it is recommended that the travel plan is not approved.
* Note that these questions and the risk assessment is specific to COVID-19 related travel disruption and not all other travel risks