With many cities in China on lockdown due to Wuhan novel coronavirus which broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan last month, international students have found themselves unable to get to courses abroad while classes in-country have been postponed until mid-February.
The spread of the disease will be exacerbated by bad timing. Chinese New Year is a peak time for travel as an estimated 3 billion individual trips are made both within the country and internationally.
“The university is providing financial support to international and Chinese students who wish to return home”
Universities and schools around the world are trying to make plans in the face of new or returning Chinese students – one report says private schools in Sydney are asking for medical certificates from returning students.
Other Chinese students already abroad are being advised not to return home for holidays. A statement from UK guardianship organisation Bright World explained that it had has taken the decision to advise all Chinese students under their care to remain in the UK for their half-term holiday.
“Bright World takes care of a number of students from Hong Kong and mainland China, many of whom had planned on returning home during the February half term when their boarding school closes,” the company explained.
“In light of the travel restrictions and following advice from Public Health England, a number of UK Boarding Schools have issued similar advice to parents, thus to avoid any difficulties in students returning back to school after their holiday.”
A statement released by the British Council explained that education activities in China in February are cancelled, and advised against UK institutions travelling to China for education-related activity next month.
It explained British Council offices will remain closed until February 3, in line with the Chinese government’s requirement.
And in Canada at the University of British Columbia, officials confirmed there are currently 32 co-op, exchange and research students in China, one in Hubei province but not in Wuhan, and they have been made aware of the resources that are available to them.
However, UBC director of university affairs Matthew Ramsey told local media that the school has not cancelled or redirected any exchange programs with the Chinese market, although discussions have taken place.
“The best advice we can give is to keep aware of what’s happening,” Ramsey explained. “Pay attention to the advice of folks like the BC Centre for Disease Control… and to stay current on what’s happening overseas.”
A spokesperson for Universities Canada told The PIE News that the safety of students, faculty and staff is the number one priority of Canadian universities, while institutions are supporting affected members of communities both in Canada and abroad as the situation unfolds.
“Universities across the country are collaborating with public health agencies and communicating widely with students, staff and faculty to share the most up-to-date information and health advice regarding the 2019 novel coronavirus, while remaining mindful that the risk associated with the virus remains low for Canada and Canadian travellers,” they said.
In China, a spokesperson for Duke Kunshan University in Jiangsu province, said it is postponing all its classes until February 17 and restricting access to the campus to essential personnel only.
“All other members of the Duke Kunshan community – students, faculty who do not reside on campus, and staff – and outside visitors will not be permitted to enter before February 15,” the spokesperson said.
“The university is providing financial support to international and Chinese students who wish to return home until classes restart.”
Education companies have additionally reported cancellations from Chinese clients
Both Macau and Hong Kong have also delayed students’ return to school. The latter has banned all citizens from Hubei province from entering the city as of January 26.
Chinese students heading abroad have been debating whether to risk taking their flights, worried that they will be stopped at the border upon arrival.
Several Chinese students from Wuhan – including two heading to Macleans College in Auckland, New Zealand – have been unable to get to school.
Education companies have additionally reported cancellations from Chinese clients and expressed worries that the disease will have a similar impact on the industry as the SARs outbreak in 2003.
Chinese government spokesperson Geng Shuang sought to reassure the international community at a recent press conference.
“Acting with openness, transparency and a high sense of responsibility to global health security, Chinese authorities will continue to share information of the epidemic with the WHO, relevant nations and China’s Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan regions in a timely manner,” he said.
Meanwhile, many have taken to social media to share messaging around school closures and other precautions being taken to limit the spread of the virus.
A student in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province where there have so far been 151 confirmed cases told The PIE News that the government are handling the outbreak “very well”.
“They brought measures immediately across China. Masks are mandatory if you go outside, but we’re advised to stay indoors unless we absolutely need to leave,” the student added.
Every area of China has now reported cases of the disease, with the exception of Tibet.
The first overseas case was identified in Thailand on January 13 and there are now also cases in Japan, South Korea, the US, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, France and Australia.
Meanwhile, governments have been making plans to help citizens in the worst-hit areas, with the UK foreign office said it was “working to make available an option for British nationals to leave Hubei province”.
Around 100 schoolchildren from Australia are reported to be among those in Wuhan amid the “lockdown” on international flights.
And in New Zealand, education ministry head Iona Holsted advised anyone who was at “high risk of exposure because they have recently been to China or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with the virus” to stay away from school for two weeks.