17 Mar 2020

Otago students party on amid calls to limit large events

6:57 pm on 17 March 2020

Hundreds of green-costumed University of Otago students are celebrating St Patrick's Day despite requests to limit large parties in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.

University of Otago students celebrating St Patrick's Day

Students in a park near the North Dunedin cemetery. Photo: Supplied

It comes after the university urged students not to gather in big groups to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to be socially responsible.

This afternoon Dunedin's first coronavirus case was confirmed.

The celebrations started early, with some students opening their first drink by 6.30am.

By mid-morning, students were gathered in a park near the North Dunedin cemetery, speakers blaring and drinks in hand.

"I think that we are the reason that it will spread, but we may not be the reason that it gets really bad ... because we don't get really bad symptoms, but we can pass it on to older people and that's where it goes bad," one student said.

While many know how to help limit the spread of coronavirus, they said it wouldn't stop them from partying.

"Wash your hands, guys. Stay at home, don't do what we're doing, wash your hands, look after your grandma and granddad."

Visiting his Australian family is off the cards for one student.

"I have to do a 14-day isolation at home in Australia and 14-day isolation in New Zealand. I'd only be going home for two weeks so I can't go home," they said.

Students danced on a car roof while others gathered in groups on the grass.

Police officers arrived just after 11am, monitoring and speaking with party-goers but making no attempts to shut it down.

Many questioned why events were being cancelled, but not large uni lectures.

"Why are they keeping schools and universities open? Which I don't think makes sense. We go into health science and we'll go into a lecture and there will be a 1000 people in there, but they'd close down Culture Shock on Thursday night," another student said.

"In halls as well, more viruses will be spread from touching doors, touching everything."

University of Otago students celebrating St Patrick's Day

Police officers arrived just after 11am. Photo: Supplied

One reveller worried about what might happen if the uni shut its doors, saying it could put their family at risk.

University head of student health Margaret Perley said it was disappointing to see the size of the North Dunedin party.

"We were trying to stress yesterday that we don't want to add more workload to the health resources because they're going to be very stretched," Perley said.

"So it's thinking carefully ahead of events planned in the future and the impact they may have on others, not the students themselves.

"We really need to minimise spread and mass gatherings are not a way to minimise mass spread."

Text messages, emails, posters and social media posts are among the ways the university is trying to keep students informed.

The university is planning to reduce lecture numbers to a maximum of 499 this week.

Student health GPs' clinical group leader Bret Dougherty said people should follow the Ministry of Health guidelines - wash your hands, cough into your elbow, stay home if you're sick and call Healthline.

"This is protection not just for themselves but for the people they care about, the people in their community who are most vulnerable - those with pre-existing medical conditions, those over 60 that we need to really have a sense of social responsibility that this is a way to keep everybody well," he said.

While the police said students had been pretty well-behaved so far, the university wanted to see them being more socially responsible as the threat of coronavirus loomed closer to home.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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