As governments and global health authorities attempt to contain the growing coronavirus outbreak in China and around the world, operational lockdown and a paucity of accurate or timely information on the virus leave some students and academic programs in limbo. Among those impacted are LSE students, particularly those in the university’s jointly-run courses with Peking University in Beijing. In London, meanwhile, fears of a potential outbreak led to a false alarm in one of LSE’s student residence halls. As the number of confirmed cases grows, the LSE administration continues to assert that the university is closely monitoring the situation in London and Beijing and is actively communicating with health authorities in both countries.
Chinese health workers detected the first cases of the virus in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China in early December and by the 31 January, the NHS had confirmed the first two cases of 2019-nCoV in the UK (they are now three). That same day, the WHO declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a Global Health Emergency.
In an email sent out to the university community on 27 January, LSE Director Minouche Shafik emphasized that the risk level of this outbreak to the UK remained low and that LSE would continue to inform its advice for students and staff based on the guidelines set by WHO and Public Health England. She confirmed that LSE’s campus would remain open and exhorted students to maintain good hygiene and regular hand washing.
Following reports that public health authorities had escorted a student from an LSE residence hall for screening, Director Shafik released another statement on January 31st explaining that this was a false alarm and the student in question was healthy. She again emphasized the “minimal risk on campus and in halls” but also noted that the UK increased risk level to “moderate.” Director Shafik’s call for calm is echoed by a WHO report published on Friday, February 7th, which cites available Chinese data from nearly 17,000 2019-nCoV cases to estimate that 82% cases of this novel coronavirus strain are “mild.”
For LSE-PKU dual students in Beijing, however, the situation remains much more serious. Peking University, along with several other universities in China, announced on January 26th it would postpone the planned 17 February start date to the spring term. As part of the statement, the university emphatically requested that students “avoid returning to Beijing and the campus of PKU in advance of the school’s announcement of a new semester start date.”
On 31 January, however, PKU announced that in light of the rapidly evolving “public health emergency caused by the outbreak of a new strain of the coronavirus” it would postpone the start of the term indefinitely. Later, on 7 February, PKU released another statement sharing the university’s decision to “to suspend on-campus courses” and requiring that “students not to come back to school until further notice.” The Beaver was unable to confirm if any PKU-LSE dual students returned to the UK or their country of origin.
In an email sent out to PKU international students, the university announced the creation of a special working group to handle response measures and asked students to “strengthen their sense of self-preservation, maintain positive personal life/hygiene habits, stick to laws and regulations issued by the government and actively cooperate with relevant Chinese or foreign parties…”. To prevent too severe of a disruption to the academic schedule, the university stated, on 7 February, that it intended to move teaching to online e-platforms and provide recorded and streaming lectures through Massive Online Open Courses and webinars.
LSE, meanwhile, released updated guidelines for students on its “Coronavirus FAQs” webpage. Due to the growing severity of the situation in the East Asia region, the university cites the WHO and PHE in recommending against student or staff travel to China during this time. The university also asked that students who have travelled to Wuhan or the greater Hubei Province in the last 14 days contact LSE Residential Life immediately.
Likewise, the guidelines prescribed that students experiencing symptoms of “cough, fever or shortness of breath” have travelled to China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau should quarantine themselves for 14 days and contact the NHS and LSE Residential Life immediately. Finally, in light of rising levels of Sinophobia and racism stoked by uninformed concerns surrounding the disease, the website urged students to “work together to not let LSE become a place where fears overcome our commitment to tolerance and respect for one another.”
This attitude appears to prevail amongst LSE students. Amanda Pleasant, an MSc student in International Affairs living in one of the LSE halls of residence, told the Beaver: “I think most people seem to be unconcerned about it – we have an active group chat and nobody seems to be worried or has brought up any issues. So most things seem calm and business as usual around here!” Nicolai Dolinal, a General Course student, agreed, stating “I don’t feel worried and I feel like most people I talk to aren’t either.”
At the time of writing, however, both LSE and PKU continue to promote admissions to both the 2020 PKU-LSE Summer School in Beijing as well as the collection of joint PKU-LSE Masters and PhD programs for 2020 enrolment. For now, LSE students and staff with questions about the 2019-nCoV outbreak should continue to visit LSE’s “Coronavirus FAQs” website for insight on this evolving epidemic.
LSE students and staff with questions about the 2019-nCoV outbreak should continue to visit LSE’s “Coronavirus FAQs” website for insight on this evolving epidemic.