The recent outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus in China has prompted IFSA-Butler, an external provider of study abroad programs, to cancel a program in Shanghai that Boston College students were set to participate in this spring. Students in another Chinese program that began in January were given the option of remaining in the program or returning to BC to complete their coursework remotely, according to Nick Gozik, director of the Office of International Programs (OIP).
Six BC students were planning on studying abroad in China this semester, four of whom were planning on participating in the IFSA-Butler program. OIP gave students in the Shanghai program the option to return to BC for the spring, but they have all decided to study in other abroad programs, Gozik said. The University is working with these students to redirect them to other programs.
“We always want to act with an abundance of caution, as students’ health and safety is our first priority,” Gozik said in an email to The Heights. “We would never want to force a student to be in a situation where they felt that their health or safety was at risk.”
The other two students had already begun programs in Beijing, Gozik said. These students were given the options of continuing with their program, returning to the United States to complete their semester coursework, or withdrawing from classes without penalty. Both students have decided to return to BC for the spring semester to re-enroll in classes, Gozik said.
Coronaviruses usually cause upper-respiratory tract diseases similar to the common cold. The most common version of the virus usually causes mild to moderate symptoms, but more severe strains of the disease can be fatal. Between three and four out of every 10 patients with one of the severe strains of the virus have died, according to the Center for Disease Control. The other severe strain has not had any human cases since 2004.
The coronavirus outbreak in China is a new strain of the virus similar to one of the more severe earlier strains. The outbreak is centralized in Wuhan, China, and Chinese officials have reported thousands of infections of the new strain. Initial infections were likely caused by animal-to-human contact, according to the CDC, but new infections are suggesting the virus can be spread from human to human.
At the time of publication, there have been several cases of the 2019 coronavirus strain in the United States, but there have been no recorded instances of human-to-human spread, and the virus is not currently spreading within the United States, the CDC reports.
The issue of what to do with students abroad in China is not isolated to BC—other universities, including American University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University are actively working to communicate with students and keep them safe, according to The Washington Post.
University of Massachusetts Amherst has also suspended fall programs in China, and other Massachusetts universities are closely monitoring the situation, according to MassLive.
Cases of OIP programs being canceled due to student safety reasons are uncommon but do happen. In December, OIP suspended fall programs in Hong Kong and canceled the upcoming spring and summer programs due to the ongoing civil unrest in the region.
Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that two students would complete abroad coursework remotely at BC. The students are returning to re-enroll in BC classes.
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