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Coronavirus: research and applied sciences universities keep a cool head

The coronavirus is a cause of much concern, but Dutch research and applied sciences universities aren’t too worried yet. The number of TU/e students currently residing in China is five or six. Today, Education and Student Affairs (ESA) updated an earlier message on intranet in which the service offers staff and students who intend to travel to China, or who are there already, the possibility of being personally informed about the most recent state of affairs. A Q&A with frequently asked questions can also be found there.

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The new lung virus was first detected in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China with a population of over 11 million, in December. Over six thousand people are infected, and the death toll in China now stands at more than a hundred and thirty. The Chinese government extended the new year holidays, and the universities will remain closed at least until Sunday. As of yet, universities in the Netherlands keep a cool head.

Marcel Visschers of ESA says there are currently about five or six TU/e students staying in China. “We also know their whereabouts.” It is certain that none of these students are residing in Wuhan, Visschers says.

Last Tuesday morning, an initial message appeared on intranet to inform staff and students that TU/e is closely monitoring developments. An update followed today, in which ESA states that staff and students have the possibility of being personally informed about the situation.

Jos Brouwers, professor at TU/e’s Department of the Built Environment, is guest professor at Wuhan University of Technology. He says that he visited the city as recently as two weeks ago. “Everything seemed to be fine at that moment, and it was reported that the number of infections has already started to decline.”

Since then, he hasn’t received any news from Wuhan. “When I left, the university closed for three to four weeks because of Chinese New Year. During that period, there really isn’t anyone there.” Brouwers says he doesn’t experience any health problems. His next visit to Wuhan is planned in early April.

No extra measures

The spokesperson for the University of Groningen says that his institution has little news to report as far as this issue is concerned. “Our exchange students in China do not reside in the risk areas, so we don’t take any further measures at this point. We follow the directions of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and advise everyone to see a doctor if they don’t feel well.”

TU Delft, which has the highest student population from China by a wide margin (641 in 2018), and Wageningen University & Research (in second place with 505 Chinese students), respond in similar fashion.

Wageningen University’s spokesperson calls for calm. “Obviously, the effects of this virus are terrible, but we need to realize just how large a country China is, and how large its population is. We keep track of the reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the RIVM, but we don’t believe there’s any cause for extra concern at this moment.” WUR did however postpone a trip some of its students intended to make to the Chinese city of Dongguan, where they are supposed to take part in a design competition, for at least one month.

Returned in good health

The University of Twente is in contact with five students in China, but anticipates no problems with regard to their return to Enschede. “One of our employees recently returned in good health,” a spokesperson says.

Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences has one student in China and follows the news “closely.” It will consider further measures should the situation worsen during next days or weeks.

Wittenborg University in Apeldoorn can say with certainty that one of its students currently resides in Wuhan. “The student is with his family. He is in good health but can’t return for the time being,” says director Peter Birdsall.

The private university of applied sciences is now in contact with 23 of its 96 Chinese students. “Fortunately, most of them decided to stay in the Netherlands, despite Chinese New Year,” Birdsall says. “We also try to get in touch with them through Chinese channels. Students are students after all: they don’t always read everything or respond immediately.”

Birsdall does worry about the virus. “My in-laws are in Beijing, where no one goes outside either. We’ll take it day by day, but it will definitively get worse before it gets better.”

Travel advice

Leiden University is in contact with thirteen students who reside in China, but not in Wuhan, a spokesperson says. The university posted a message on intranet with frequently asked questions, such as: ‘Should I worry about contact with students or employees who recently returned from China?’, and ‘Should students and staff members cancel their travel plans to China?’

Leiden University advises not to travel to China, as does the University of Amsterdam. The UvA board decided to issue this advice after its partner universities in China decided to close their doors.

‘Class A disease’

Earlier this week, three coronavirus cases were confirmed in France, soon followed by a case in Germany. Three people were tested in the Netherlands yesterday, but the test results for all three of them returned negative.

Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care labeled the virus a so-called ‘class A disease.’ This means that healthcare workers who suspect that someone might be infected, need to report this immediately to the Municipal Health Service.

Those at TU/e who wish to be personally informed about travelling to China and the most recent state of affairs, can call or send ESA a WhatsApp message at +316 4168 3406, or send an email to info@tue.nl, with the header ‘coronavirus.’

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