With the novel coronavirus from China (COVID-19) continuing to spread in China and beyond, the South Korean Ministry of Education announced its plan to protect Chinese students coming from China, which includes advising them not to come to campus for 14 days upon their arrival. Chinese students will be isolated in their dormitories or residence and will not be allowed to use school cafeterias and libraries, according to the plan. Those who have yet to arrive in Korea will be recommended to take online courses or take a leave of absence.
Under the current quarantine guidelines, a special entry procedure, which includes temperature, residence address, and contact number check, is being enforced on anyone who is coming from any Chinese provinces or municipalities except for Hubei. Chinese students entering the country will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days in order to prevent a possible large-scale infection in closed and crowded places, such as lecture halls and dormitories. The current situation is serious in that the death toll from the COVID-19 in China keeps increasing and South Korea has confirmed 29th and 30th cases of the COVID-19, whose source of infection is unknown. There are voices of concern that the government should strengthen quarantine screening, presuming possible community transmission.
But placing quarantine responsibility on universities, which lack in quarantine capabilities, will not effectively isolate Chinese students. There are over 71,000 Chinese students in South Korea and 19,022 of them have already entered the country. Universities are facing a backlash from South Korean students after telling them to leave their dormitory room to put Chinese students in self-isolation. It is beyond universities’ capability to keep Chinese students in control and it is easy for those who live outside the campus to be left unattended. Another concern is the financial burden on universities in paying for facility management, lunch boxes for students, and disinfection and quarantine efforts.
The Korean Council for University Professors argued that universities should postpone the start of the spring semester and the government should issue an entry ban on all foreigners coming from China by saying there are no practical measures to keep track of all Chinese students in the nation or keep them in isolation. The South Korean government has not issued an entry ban on all foreigners coming from China despite calls from society due to its diplomatic and economic ramifications. Universities have the autonomy to make their academic calendar but the government should be responsible for quarantine. It is the government’s duty to provide the necessary support to follow government quarantine measures. The government will be held accountable for shifting the quarantine responsibility to universities if additional COVID-19 patients are reported by failing to control Chinese students.