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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 20)

All News 07:16 February 20, 2020

Containing virus on campus

The Ministry of Education has unveiled measures aimed at strengthening the management of Chinese students to prevent further spreading of the new coronavirus. Chinese students enrolled in Korean universities are required to skip classes and quarantine themselves in their residences for 14 days, the incubation period of COVID-19 (2919-nCoV). The ministry also advised Chinese students who have not yet returned to Korea for the spring semester to take a leave of absence or study online from China.

At present, all Koreans and foreigners coming from China ― except Hubei Province from which the government banned entry into Korea in early February ― are obliged to undergo special entry procedures, including health checkups. Chinese students returning from their homeland have, in addition, had the 14-day self-quarantine period imposed because of fears that the introduction of the virus into densely populated places such as school dormitories could cause massive infections.

The measures, however, have invited criticism for an across the board passing of the government's responsibility to manage Chinese students to universities. There are an estimated 71,000 Chinese students studying in Korea; 20,000 have already returned and are currently studying, while the remaining 40,000 are expected to arrive in the near future. At school dormitories, Chinese students must be assigned single-occupancy rooms so that they can quarantine themselves, but the shortage of rooms has caused many to seek residences off campus. The school authorities are supposed to monitor these off-campus students by phone twice a day, but whether such measures are effective is in doubt.

The government should play a greater role in containing the pneumonia inducing virus in relation to the returning Chinese students, given universities' limitations in their ability to impose quarantine and disinfection measures. For example, Chinese students under "self-quarantine" must be provided with packed meals and daily necessities, but who is to pay for these items has yet to be decided. The government's measures against the coronavirus epidemic should be more all-encompassing.

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