Australia Plans Limited Return of International Students

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government is working on allowing some international students to return to Australia, offering the multi-billion dollar higher education industry a lifeline.

Foreign students are a key source of income for Australian universities, and the border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic risk crippling some institutions.

After a meeting of the National Cabinet Friday, Morrison said authorities are still working out issues such as quarantine measures for students entering the country. There is “still a lot of work to do,” he said, adding there may be pilot programs next month.

The higher education sector generated A$15.9 billion ($11 billion) in international student tuition fees in 2018-19, according to research firm IBISWorld. China, which accounted for 27% of international students in Australia as of March this year, this week cautioned its citizens to reconsider studying in the nation due to the risk of racist attacks.

Morrison also urged state and territory governments in Australia to ease their own border restrictions to allow unfettered domestic travel, after social-distancing measures reduced the daily growth rate of coronavirus case to less than 0.2%. He welcomed plans for Queensland to allow interstate visits from July 10, with South Australia to follow on July 20.

The prime minister also announced a further easing of restrictions, saying that as many as 10,000 people would be allowed to gather at sports stadiums and cultural venues that have a maximum capacity of 40,000 as long as they are seated.

Still, Morrison is warning against people attending Black Lives Matter protests this weekend. Health officials and leaders in Australia, the U.S. and U.K. have warned that mass gatherings in support of racial equality risk inadvertently re-sparking the virus.

A protester who attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne last weekend has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to state authorities, and officials are conducting tracing to ensure any close contacts are tested.

“I ask those, this weekend, who are contemplating engaging in a mass rally -- don’t do it,” he said. “Follow the health advice. Don’t attend. Do the right thing by your fellow Australians. Protect the lives and the livelihoods, protect the businesses.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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