Number of students dodging transit ban unknown

CHINESE international students have been transiting through countries with their own Covid-19 outbreaks to get around the China travel ban and universities won't reveal the exact numbers.

Federal Government data shows 14,900 international students from mainland China have arrived in Australia since the February 2 travel ban was put in place.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy speaking on the coronavirus. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy speaking on the coronavirus. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Destinations they transited through include Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Bali and Bangkok.

South Korea is one of the countries with the biggest outbreaks outside of China, while there are concerns over Indonesia's testing regime and whether the disease is more widely spread their than is being reported.

Australian Border Force can have incoming arrivals tested if they have concerns over their travel history, while also checking time stamps on passports.

South Korea has largely locked down Daegu and Cheongdo, the epicentres of its virus outbreak.

Health Minister Greg Hunt stressed there was no formal policy to allow students in, but any traveller from mainland China could enter Australia after a 14-day period outside that country.

"The Prime Minister referred to the chief health and medical officers yesterday to look at whatever requirements are needed with regards to high risk countries," he said.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it was important for any travellers, not just students, to report to report symptoms of a fever or a cough particularly if they have come from a high-risk country.

"It's not really about blocking people from 90 countries; it's about blocking people from the highest risk countries," he said.

As health authorities race to isolate Brisbane residents exposed to a sick Chinese student, the University of Queensland yesterday revealed it did not know how many other Chinese students had arrived from other countries.

"We won't have a clear picture relating to numbers until census day (on) 31 March,'' a spokeswoman said.

"To be clear, UQ has not provided cash incentives or encouraged students to transit through third countries.''

The University of Melbourne has been paying Chinese students to skirt the federal government's travel ban from mainland China, by paying $7500 towards accommodation and airfares to "self-quarantine" in a different country for a fortnight, before flying to Australia.

The University of Western Sydney has paid Chinese students $1500 while Adelaide University has paid $5000 for the "third-country quarantine''.

Queensland-based universities yesterday denied giving any financial incentives to Chinese students to beat the travel ban.

But the University of the Sunshine Coast said it had "no way of knowing" how many students had arrived from China after stopovers in other countries.

"The university is not empowered to force people to be tested,'' a spokesman said yesterday.

"There is no way of knowing how many students have been to third countries before coming to Australia.

"USC has followed the advice it has received from the state and federal governments in regards to the coronavirus and, to the best of our knowledge, our students have followed the advice to them about monitoring symptoms, self-isolation and seeking medical advice.''

A Griffith University spokeswoman said all students who had complied with the government's travel rules were welcome.

"Any student who has arrived in Australia and fully adhered to the Federal Government's travel regulations is welcome on our campuses,'' she said.

A Queensland University of Technology spokeswoman said all students attending QUT had complied with government requirements to enter Australia.

"QUT has given no financial incentives to students to transit through a third country,'' she said.

James Cook University yesterday said about 50 Chinese students were studying at the Cairns and Townsville campuses but none were from the Ground Zero coronavirus city of Wuhan.

"Of about 50 students from China, 20 of those are affected by the travel ban,'' he said.

"JCU has worked with each of these students to develop individual study plans, and most of the 20 students will continue their studies remotely.''

Australian Catholic University deputy vice-chancellor Dr Stephen Weller said ACU was helping Chinese students with access to online learning, "fee adjustment'', counselling and other support.

"We have not given any advice for students to travel through third countries in order to meet the 14-day requirement,'' he said.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan yesterday refused to say if he would ban universities from paying students to transit through third countries.

"The government has never encouraged students from mainland China to see out a 14-day period in a third country,'' he said.

"However, there is nothing within Australia's current travel restrictions to stop them doing so.''

It comes as the Federal Government foreshadows a cut to deeming rates to give pensioners more cash, while fast tracking infrastructure spending, amid other stimulus measures, in a bid to keep the economy out of recession.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack wrote to state and territory governments asking them for smaller-scale road and rail projects which could be brought forward within three to six months.

State Transport Minister Mark Bailey said maintenance on the National Land Transport Network, recently recommended by Infrastructure Australia as a high priority project, was an obvious candidate.

"If the Deputy Prime Minister wants more shovels in the ground, we're ready to talk, and our record on project delivery backs that up," he said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says a coronavirus stimulus package will be coming before the May Budget. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says a coronavirus stimulus package will be coming before the May Budget. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Australia's economy grew by a larger than expected 0.5 per cent last quarter, which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said put the country in a good position going into a difficult period caused by the global outbreak.

Mr Frydenberg promised a stimulus package, expected to include support for tourism and export industries battling supply chain issues, would be announce before the May budget.

"But when we are over this economic shock we want the Australian economy to be stronger," he said.

He said he would not rule in or out direct cash measures as part of any stimulus.