CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the status of programs in the United Kingdom. Classes are still being taught there.
Fear of a respiratory virus in China has driven dozens of American study abroad programs to withdraw in recent days, with those in Europe, Australia and South America among those affected.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Patrick Cullivan said roughly 10% of study abroad programs in Asia and Europe have canceled trips to Chinese universities, and probably more after a second case of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, linked to Beijing airport was confirmed Friday.
“We’re sending our own experts to China and also to Hong Kong, to assist with the provision of surveillance, so we’re monitoring this situation and reassessing going forward,” Cullivan said.
Officials have ordered stricter hygiene requirements and checked travelers’ air-travel data for the virus, with the virus already blamed for the deaths of seven people in Hong Kong and one in Thailand.
Currently, no further cases have been reported in mainland China, and airline screeners in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai are asking travelers about respiratory symptoms, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
The CDC says it has staff on the ground in China, both staff and volunteers in communities throughout the country that might have seen first-hand SARS patients and experts at an overseas lab that has been helping with research on the virus, which can cause severe pneumonia. The American agency also is reviewing data from China, according to Cullivan.
SARS was first reported in China in 2003, causing more than 800 deaths and sickening more than 7,000 people before disappearing from the public eye in 2006. It returned in 2012 with a case in Shanghai and has reappeared in the past six months in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.
Despite the recent flare-up of the virus, Cullivan said overall international travel from the U.S. to China remains at “unprecedented levels.” Between 2008 and 2012, about 16,000 U.S. study abroad programs took students there every year, according to Public Affairs Director Kate Harkins of the Association of International Educators.
Still, the plummeting enrollment in China would be a blow to international tourism to Asia, an industry that has long been dependent on Asian students, and one that is growing.
The CDC reported last year that international tourism revenues grew 9.5% in 2014, with more than five million more Americans visiting countries in the Asia-Pacific region. China was the number one source of visitors to the region, an increase of 22% since 2013.
Many study abroad programs have been reacting to the SARS fears by urging their students to stay home or to cancel trips to China. Cullivan said he doesn’t have specifics on what types of study abroad programs are being canceled, only that both public and private colleges in the U.S. have been impacted.
Among the places where there were cancellations are the University of Exeter in Britain, the University of Newcastle in Australia, and the Agnes Scott College in South Africa.
Alison Rhodes, head of study abroad at the University of Melbourne, which has 59 programs in more than 50 countries, said she is not aware of any programs canceling trips, but said those remaining would be considering both the health and financial implications of continued travel to China.
“We may be talking about programs … drawing a line in the sand, but I wouldn’t suggest that they have canceled,” Rhodes said. “But I think they will be reassessing their plans.”
In the U.S., Rhodes said, there are 22 public and private universities offering over 500 study abroad programs with destinations including China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Taiwan. “This is a huge sector of the programing environment,” she said.
Those who want to graduate with an international education should be aware that many Chinese colleges and universities now do not accept students with non-Chinese passports, she said.
Cullivan said there is no concern of the virus being transferred to the U.S. but added that the CDC is asking travelers arriving at U.S. ports of entry to cooperate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have them fill out a mask- and shower-wand-compliant questionnaire that includes questions about recent travel and reasons for doing so.
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