UK keeps close eye on Sars hotspots

April 25, 2003

Preparations were being made this week for any possible evacuation of hundreds of British students and academics from universities in China.

Many Chinese campuses have closed to contain the spread of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus. The British Council has asked the authorities to make sure all their UK students are registered with the British Embassy so that any new advice can be issued to them quickly.

So far, there has been no general call for British students to return home, although individual institutions that have students in China are considering recalling them. Leeds University has told its 31 students and one lecturer in mainland China that they may return home if they wish. Ten other students in Taiwan are not considered at risk.

A Leeds spokeswoman said: "The medical advice we have is that it is not necessary to quarantine studentsI however, we are monitoring the situation closely."

Durham University is maintaining daily contact with 12 of its students in Beijing. A spokeswoman said returning students or staff had been asked to monitor their health for ten days before resuming work.

Many Chinese universities have closed campuses until further notice, such as the Northern Jiao Tong University, where 20 people are said to have symptoms. There have been reports that Peking University in Beijing cancelled classes after a departmental secretary fell ill.

China had reported 97 deaths from Sars and 2,158 people infected as The THES went to press.

The British Council in China said the spread of the virus had had little impact on the recruitment of Chinese students, although it had led to the cancellation of several events such as a British and Chinese writers' tour.

Michael O'Sullivan, director of the British Council in China, said: "We have had a lot of inquiries from Chinese students about whether they can apply to study in the UK as normal.

"Our response has been that there is so far no change, and the number of visa applications is no lower than it was last year."

Worldwide, the outbreak has disrupted academic programmes. The impact has been greatest around the disease epicentres in Beijing, Hong Kong and the Toronto region of Ontario, Canada.

A global summit on intellectual property in Beijing this week was cancelled, and the American Association for Cancer Research has deferred its annual meeting.

The University of Waterloo in Ontario advised students and staff with fever and coughs to stay home.

Medical students due to return to the University of Toronto have been told to stay away following a cluster of suspected cases.

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