Coronavirus concerns prompt universities to cancel study abroad programs

Universities across the U.S. have canceled study abroad programs amid the continued spread of the deadly coronavirus, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan but has since impacted dozens of countries. There are now more than 80,000 individual cases of the novel virus – known as COVID-19 – worldwide, while over 2,700 people have died in the outbreak, according to Wednesday estimates.

At least seven American universities – Syracuse University, Fairfield University, Elon University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, Sacred Heart and the University of New Haven – have canceled abroad programs, namely in Italy, which has seen a surge in cases in recent days.

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In a Tuesday statement, the senior vice president for International Programs and Academic Operations at Syracuse University, Steven Bennett, said the university has “made the decision to close the academic program at our Florence campus and assist our students with returning to the United States.”

“Concerns for the safety, well-being and free movement of the 342 students in our study abroad program in Florence, Italy, have guided this difficult decision, which was also informed by global health experts. We believe this is absolutely necessary to reduce the risk of our students being unable to leave Italy due to Italian containment efforts.”

The school’s campus in Florence will close by Sunday, which is the same day students are being asked to fly home to the U.S., ABC News reported. 

Students currently taking part in Stanford University's study abroad program in Florence will be heading home early, reported The Stanford Daily, the school’s student-run newspaper. Students are asked to return home “before the start of next week.”

Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) will provide students $500 to cover airline costs to leave the city “no later than Sunday,” as per the paper. A decision to hold the spring program will be made by March 20.

The University of Southern California (USC) is taking similar measures, requiring students studying in both South Korea and in the Veneto and Lombardy regions of Italy to return home, the Los Angeles Times reported. The school is “working actively with them to make arrangements to travel back to USC,” officials said in an email obtained by the newspaper.

New York University (NYU) has not outright canceled its Florence program, John Beckman, an NYU spokesperson, told Fox News. But the outbreak has prompted the school to “suspend in-person classes and operations at the Florence campus this week,” with classes reconvening remotely next week, he said.

Students have been asked to return home in the interim, with the possibility of classes resuming at the Florence campus by the end of next month.

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“We hope we will be able to reopen as normal at the end of March,” said Beckman.