February 20, 2020 13:26
Fears are mounting over the spread of coronavirus as many Chinese students are coming back to Korea after their winter break. There is a shortage of about 14,000 dorm rooms of major universities in Seoul alone to quarantine all Chinese students in the capital.
In a meeting on Feb. 5, the Education Ministry decided to allow Chinese students to attend classes unless they have symptoms 14 days after they return. They can quarantine themselves while the university monitors their health and movements.
But there are not enough dorm rooms for Chinese students at 15 of 17 universities in Seoul with more than 1,000 Chinese students each. Supposing that all 18,305 dorm rooms at these 15 universities is given to Chinese students, there will still be 14,285 Chinese students without a room.
Hanyang University has only 1,015 rooms capable of accommodating fewer than half of its 2,949 Chinese students if they occupy a room alone to prevent any potential infections. But in reality even fewer are available since Korean students from the provinces also use them.
Kyunghee University has emptied about 100 additional rooms at two dorm buildings to make them available exclusively for Chinese students in self-quarantine. But the university expects some 3,000 Chinese students to arrive for the spring semester. "It's physically impossible for universities to manage all Chinese students," a Kyunghee staffer said.
Sungkyunkwan University has made some 400 rooms available in a separate dorm building, and so far about 330 Chinese students have applied for self-quarantine there. The university also expects some 3,000 students to return from China before the spring semester starts.
Those who cannot be accommodated will fall through the net. A Chungang University official said, "About 90 percent of our Chinese students board off campus, so it's difficult for us to check whether they're abiding by self-quarantine."
However, the ministry has shifted the responsibility onto individual universities. Back on Feb. 12, a ministry official said, "We're mulling ways to look for regional facilities in consultation with local governments in case there's a shortage of dorms available for Chinese students." But the ministry has yet to act on the promise or even release statistics on the exact number of Chinese students who are expected.
Later the official said, "We're going to consult with local governments after we check the arrival dates of Chinese students and find out how many more dorm rooms are needed for them."
The government has made self-diagnosis apps available to all Chinese visitors entering the country since Feb. 12 so that they can check their symptoms themselves every day but has not shared this information with universities yet.
Universities say it is too late to do anything now. "It's been over a month since the first coronavirus infection occurred in Korea," a university official said. "The government sat on its hands as far as the Chinese students are concerned even as it was quarantining Koreans evacuate from Wuhan at isolated facilities for two weeks."
The ministry has told universities to prevent their Chinese students from attending classes for two weeks after they return. But it cannot force them to quarantine the students.
Calls are growing to ban all travelers from China, and about 710,000 people have already signed to petition to that effect on the Cheong Wa Dae website.
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