SDSU students studying abroad in Asia face uncertainty following coronavirus outbreak

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Marion Ette and Mackenzie Stafford

by Brenden Tuccinardi, International Correspondent

SINGAPORE – As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to rise globally, San Diego State has been quick to address the concerns of students, faculty and staff locally. 

Yet the university has provided minimal assistance to students currently studying abroad in parts of Asia, where clusters of the novel coronavirus have emerged. 

In a campus-wide email sent on Jan. 29, Dr. Cristina Alfaro, interim vice president for global affairs at SDSU, detailed the university’s decision to suspend all international programs to China for the spring semester. 

“There is no immediate threat to our campus community and SDSU does not currently have any students studying in Wuhan, or the Hubei Province,” Alfaro said in the email. 

However, according to the AztecsAbroad database, SDSU offers more than 60 other programs across Asia, including in Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.   

According to the World Health Organization’s Feb. 18 situation report, 72,528 cases of coronavirus, also referred to as Covid-19, have been confirmed in China. After China, the second-highest number of cases is in Singapore with 77, then Japan (65), South Korea (31), Malaysia (22) and Vietnam (16). There are an additional 454 cases confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined in Japan. According to the same situation report, WHO assessed the regional risk as “high.”

When asked if SDSU will bring home students currently studying across Asia, Associate Director of SDSU Study Abroad Inemesit Williams said the office was keeping its eye on the region. 

“We will continue to monitor the situation and act as needed and recommended,” she said. 

On Feb. 12, Williams sent an email addressed to “SDSU travelers” with tips for traveling during the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

The email advised students to refer to an infographic from the Overseas Security Advisory Council, as well as resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safe travel practices. 

Biology junior Gabriella Duran doesn’t know if she received this email. Duran, who is currently on the Spring 2020 voyage of Semester at Sea, where students travel between multiple countries while living on a ship, said she cannot access her email when she is not in port.

After setting sail from San Diego in January, the ship Duran is on was scheduled to make stops in Malaysia and India but is now skipping these locations altogether, although several ports in Africa and Europe have been added to the itinerary, Duran said. 

“(Semester at Sea) is just trying to keep us out of Asia now because countries are not accepting international vessels that have been to Asia within a certain timeframe,” she said. 

However, the ship had already stopped in Japan and Vietnam. 

“Immigration gave us masks when we got off the ship (in Vietnam),” Duran said. “They also checked all our temperatures before we got back on the ship.”

All the information Duran has received about the virus has come from Semester at Sea officials, not the SDSU study abroad office. 

For communications junior Grace Han, who is studying at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Williams’ Feb. 12 email was the first time she had heard from the study abroad office regarding the outbreak, even after the situation in Singapore was quickly escalating. 

Just days before the email from Williams was sent, Singapore’s Ministry of Health elevated the city-state’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition to level orange, designating the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore as “severe” on Feb. 7.

The government also implemented mandatory 14-day quarantines for people who have traveled to mainland China in the past two weeks and established compulsory temperature checks at workplaces and schools, according to the Ministry of Health website

“I find myself constantly checking the news to see where the new cases are appearing,” Han said. “My first thoughts are how to protect myself, how this will affect class schedules and how to still enjoy my time abroad.”

Nanyang Technological University has mandated all classes with more than 50 students move online, has canceled several large events and set up temperature checks and has established a quarantine center in a graduate student residence hall, an email from university administrators said. 

Han is taking her own precautions to stay healthy. 

She wears a mask and avoids being in large crowds to reduce her chances of contracting the virus, but even while being careful she is making the best out of a precarious situation with friends she has made while abroad. 

“Although we are staying careful, we are still enjoying our regular lives,” Han said. “It’s just when you cough in public, everyone avoids you like you’re parting the Red Sea.”

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