Study Abroad

The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About Safety and Studying in China Right Now

Andrea Palmer
Topic Expert

Andrea Ella Palmer is a freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. She earned a Master of Public Health from University College Dublin in 2017. Over the past 5 years, Andrea has lived in Madrid, Dublin, and now calls Alicante, Spain home where she works as an EFL teacher in a primary school.

Coronavirus: you've seen it dominating the major news headlines but what is it and what are the risks to current and prospective study abroad students? Read up on the facts behind this latest global public health outbreak.

This is an ongoing and rapidly changing situation so please consult the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) for the latest updates. The information seen here is current as of February 1st, 2020.

1. What is the coronavirus?

Although currently being referred to as the coronavirus, coronaviruses are actually a large family of viruses that are common in animals. As viruses, in general, have the ability to change and mutate over time, these coronaviruses can sometimes be passed onto humans from animals.

This has happened in recent history with the SARS (2002) and MERS (2012) outbreaks. There are several existing coronaviruses that infect people. This one, however, is referred to as “novel” as it is the first time it has been identified in humans. For now, CDC has labelled it 2019-nCoV.

2. Coronavirus is Spreading Both Inside and Outside of China

First identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019, the virus has now been confirmed in all regions of mainland China as well as over 20 other locations across the world. Wuhan is the 7th largest city in China and a major hub for international travelers. This has made it easy for the virus to spread.

Many airlines have taken measures, due to safety concerns and lower travel demand, to suspend flights to and from China. They are also providing travel and flight waivers. Students who are or were planning to travel to China to study abroad can check directly with the airline to see what options are available.

3. Travel Advisories Have Been Issued for China

As of January 30, 2020, the WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department has issued coronavirus travel advisories for both Hubei Province and China as a whole.

  • China: Level 4 - Do not travel
  • Hubei Province: Level 4 - Do not travel

The U.S State Department warns that due to current travel restrictions placed by the Chinese government, the US has limited abilities to provide emergency services to citizens within Hubei Province.

Those planning to go overseas or students already studying abroad can sign up for free with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Simply register your location with the State Department to receive updates, safety information, and communication from consular staff in cases of emergency or potential evacuation.

4. U.S. Universities are Canceling Study Abroad Programs in China

According to Insider Higher Ed, many universities are canceling or postponing undergraduate study abroad programs in China, including temporarily closing satellite campuses.

In some cases, students who are already studying abroad in China are being brought home. Some of the universities included in these cancellations include Johns Hopkins University, Arizona State, Texas A&M, and Northwestern University. As of January 31, University of Minnesota also canceled its spring study abroad program to China. Depending on the university, graduate research students may be permitted to travel to China with an approved safety plan.

Other travel providers, like CIEE, are either suspending programs or not encouraging students to travel to China at this time, until it is safe to do so.

If you have questions how the coronavirus outbreak affects your current or future study in China, it's very important to maintain contact with your university's study abroad coordinator and/or your program providers who will keep you abreast of any changes.

While the current coronavirus outbreak is getting a lot of attention, it is important to note that during the 2018-2019 flu season in the US, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 35.5 million Americans got sick and of those, around 34,200 people died. While there have been over 200 deaths associated with this outbreak, current research shows that severe illness and death are more common among those with preexisting conditions and/or weakened immune systems.

By keeping in touch with your study abroad coordinators and following current guidance from health and government officials, you can make the most informed and best decision for yourself.