Australia reopens doors to some Chinese students after coronavirus ban

Lidia Kelly, Reuters

Posted at Feb 22 2020 03:02 PM

People wearing face masks walk on Bourke Street after cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Jan. 29, 2020. Andrew Kelly, Reuters/File

MELBOURNE - The Australian government said Saturday it would allow the return of some Chinese high school students who have been blocked from entering the country due to coronavirus restrictions, reopening its doors to a market that is key for the economy.

Thousands of Chinese students were prevented from heading to Australia after the long summer break for the start of school and university terms this month when the government imposed a travel ban for most people travelling from China.

Australian officials said the targeted easing of the ban would allow about 760 Chinese high school students - none from Hubei province, which is the epicenter of the outbreak - to apply to return.

The students would be considered on a case-by-case basis and those who were successful would be subjected to a 14-day self-imposed quarantine on arrival in Australia, officials said.

"It is incredibly important that we bring some normality back to the international student market," Education Minister Dan Tehan told reporters. "It is a small step we are taking, it is a precautionary step."

Tehan said the government would next week consider whether to allow the return of tertiary education students.

Chinese students made up almost 40 percent of the international higher education population in Australia in 2018, according to the most recent official data.

That broader population has grown by more than 10 percent over each of the past 3 years, contributing more than A$30 billion ($21 billion) to the domestic economy.

Australia introduced its travel restrictions on all foreign nationals who had been in China within 2 weeks of planned travel to Australia from entering the country.

Australian nationals and permanent residents were exempt from the ban, which has been extended twice and remains in place until Feb. 29.