A Chinese student says she spent nearly $20,000 in order to get around Australia’s coronavirus travel ban and make it to her classes in time.
Karen Ji, who is studying law and commerce at the University of Sydney, was one of thousands of Chinese students forced to decide between missing the start of semester or travelling to a third country when the government’s travel ban was announced last month.
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In an interview with the BBC, Ms Ji said she ended up spending 16 days quarantined in Thailand with her mother before entering Australia, booking “five tickets in economy and even first class in order to fly to Sydney”.
“I just couldn’t believe it and was in panic,” she said.
“International students, we feel very angry about it. We feel like it’s a betrayal to our international students.”
Ms Ji said she bought “such an expensive ticket in order to come back”.
“But the flight was cancelled so I felt very angry and panicked,” she said.
“So we decided to fly to a third country in order to come back to Australia. I still feel very tired because it took me so many days and cost me so much to come back again.”
There are around 260,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australia, the vast majority of whom attend universities, representing about $12 billion a year in revenue.
If students stranded in China are unable to make it back to Australia by the university census date, an estimated $1.2 billion will be lost.
Some including the University of Melbourne, University of Adelaide and Western Sydney University have offered cash grants of up to $7500 to affected students to get around the travel ban.
“Chinese international students make up the largest international group for the (Australian) education industry – we contribute so much money to Australia every year,” Ms Ji told the BBC.
“I know some Australian citizens are probably liking this travel ban, it is good for them for their safety. So I think it is very hard to judge the travel ban at this moment.”
She added, “I feel so happy that I can enter Australia for continuing my education.”
It comes after holiday snaps showed international students who were supposed to be “self-quarantining” themselves in a third country while waiting out the travel ban period were partying and dining out in exotic locations.
Social media posts seen by The Australian showed a Sydney-bound female student on a beach in Thailand with four friends, another young woman shopping in a Bangkok mall, and Chinese students mingling with locals in Dubai.
It highlighted the loophole in the government’s travel ban, after a Chinese student at the University of Queensland tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday having spent 14 days in Dubai, where health officials suspect he interacted with other students.
More than 11,000 Chinese university and high school students have already returned to Australia having served out the quarantine but scores more remain in limbo.
Australia now has more than 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus, most recently the baby of a woman who first came down with the illness after returning to South Australia from Iran.
Two people have died in Australia — a 95-year-old woman in a NSW nursing home and a 78-year-old West Australian who had been evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison today extended Australia’s travel ban on people arriving from China and Iran to include those coming from South Korea as the coronavirus outbreak spirals out of control.
Globally there have been more than 95,000 confirmed cases and 3200 reported deaths, mainly in China’s Hubei province where the outbreak started.