Universities take precautions to limit coronavirus risk


Despite concerns surrounding novel coronavirus, both of Canberra’s major universities are planning for business as usual, albeit with some precautions in place.

A spokesperson for the Australian National University (ANU) said they have no plans to delay the start of semester and are working to help their Chinese students who have been affected by the Federal Government’s announcement regarding travel restrictions on 1 February.

Around 5,000 students from China are enrolled at ANU and the university is currently working with relevant government agencies to determine exactly how many have been affected by the travel restrictions.

“At this stage, our best estimate is that the majority of these students will be affected by the travel restrictions,” the spokesperson said, with ANU looking into ways to support affected students so they can still complete their studies with as minimal disruption as possible.

In a statement on 30 January, ACT Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, said there were no cases of novel coronavirus confirmed in the ACT and only a handful of people who have been investigated, with all returning negative test results.

“We wish to reassure the Canberra community that while this situation is evolving there is no need for alarm,” Dr Coleman said.

The ACT Government is advising that anyone who has been to Hubei Province in China will need to stay at home for 14 days after leaving Hubei.

This is consistent with the updated national advice and precautionary approach for all people who have returned from travelling in the Hubei Province in response to the corona virus outbreak.

The ANU noted fewer than 10 of their students have been to Hubei or Wuhan and with classes not due to start until 24 February, there is plenty of time for anybody to complete their period of isolation.

The university is screening on-campus residential students on arrival and helping them with isolation, including making sure they are “cared for and supported with kindness and compassion”; and providing those who are self-isolating with a single studio apartment with their own kitchen and bathroom.

Meanwhile, with orientation week underway, the University of Canberra (UC) is “taking every precaution as advised by the Australian and ACT governments including in relation to the imposition of travel restrictions and self-isolation,” said Belinda Robinson, interim Vice-Chancellor and President, UC.

“We have invested significant resources to support students – both in China and in Australia. These precautions include, but are not limited to: identifying and contacting up to 600 Chinese students potentially affected by travel restrictions; assessing individual student circumstances and developing options for deferment, intermission or distance study for approximately 300 students still off-shore; providing medical and counselling support and study advice for these students and approximately 300 additional students already in Australia; supporting self-isolation in a dedicated separate residence for three students who, while not displaying symptoms, met the self-isolation criteria; and establishing a triage system for any student arriving from mainland China,” Ms Robinson said.

“We would like to assure students, staff and the community that we are taking proactive precautions to limit the relatively low risk of contagion on campus, and to support all students commence their studies for 2020, and to participate in all our O Week activities with peace of mind.”