Andrea Mantovano / The New York Times

Two masked tourists walk by Milan's Duomo Cathedral. As Coronavirus has spread heavily to Italy and South Korea, Cornell suspends its study abroad programs.

February 27, 2020

Study Abroad Programs in Italy and South Korea Suspended As International Coronavirus Outbreak Worsens

Print More

Amid growing fears that the international novel coronavirus outbreak could become a pandemic, the University has suspended study abroad programs in Italy and South Korea — two countries that have been among the hardest hit outside of China.

After the Centers for Disease Control gave South Korea a level 3 travel warning — which advises travelers to avoid any nonessential travel — the Council on International Educational Exchange canceled the College of Arts and Sciences trip to South Korea for the spring 2020 semester, according to an email sent to students.

On Thursday morning, Provost Michael Kotlikoff emailed the Cornell community about the suspensions, writing that Cornell programs in countries with CDC level 3 travel warnings will be suspended and will send students back to campus — either in Ithaca or New York City.

The University will work with students at partner universities or programs in level 3 countries — that have suspended academic activities due to the outbreak — to return to campus and complete coursework provided by the partner or Cornell, the email stated.

For students engaged in independent study or research with a non-Cornell program — that is still running despite the outbreak — will be allowed to stay on, but the University will work with those students to finish their semester on campus if they choose to return, according to the email.

The email also stated that for abroad programs in countries with CDC level 2 travel warnings — which urge travelers to take “enhanced precautions” — Cornell will evaluate its programs on a case-by-case basis to determine the appropriate course of action.

In addition to Kotlikoff’s email, the Tompkins County Health Department sent out a notice regarding the potential for coronavirus to become a pandemic. The notice reiterated that the risk for infection in Tompkins County remains low and that there are currently no confirmed coronavirus cases in New York state.

The University of Bocconi in Milan, Italy — where many Cornellians typically study abroad — announced in an email on Monday that it would suspend all teaching activities, conferences and other events from Feb. 24 to Feb. 29.

Hours before Bocconi sent the email, Cornell emailed students in Italy, urging them to take extra precautions in wake of the outbreak. In another email sent to students abroad in Milan, Cornell wrote that it was following the decisions of other universities in the Italian province of Lombardi to suspend all academic activities from Feb. 24 to March 1.

“As this decision was made only recently, there are still details that remain to be clarified,” the email read. “Please be assured that we will work closely with our partners in the city to coordinate academic support for students and minimize disruption.”

Cornell has been in contact with Bocconi over the situation, according to an email Tamara Ingram, assistant director of international programs in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, sent to ILR students in the program. Ingram added in the email that there would be “distance learning activities.”

Italy has seen an alarming spike in coronavirus cases since last Thursday. Before Feb. 20, there were less than five confirmed coronavirus cases in the country. Now, there are 453 confirmed cases as of Wednesday night and 12 reported deaths

This sudden rise in coronavirus cases prompted Italian health officials to lock down at least 10 towns, shutter schools in major cities and cancel sporting and cultural events on Sunday. So far, most of the cases have been centered in Milan.

Currently, the CDC has designated a level 2 travel warning for Italy, which urges travelers to take “enhanced precautions.” On the other hand, China, where the outbreak first originated, continues to have a level 3 warning — the CDC’s highest warning.

Other universities have also been forced to suspend academic activities in Italy in wake of the outbreak.

So far, New York University, Syracuse University, Fairfield University and Elon University have suspended their abroad programs in Italy. NYU closed its Florence program until March 29, while the others have closed indefinitely. Syracuse students in Florence have been asked to return to the U.S.

The coronavirus outbreak has stoked international fears that the disease could eventually turn into a pandemic. Coronavirus has spread across Europe, with new cases cropping up in Croatia, Germany, Greece and Spain. In the Middle East, there are 139 confirmed cases in Iran, which resulted in Iraq closing its border with Iran on Sunday. The disease has spread to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates — with many of these cases originating from Iran.

While most cases are in China, there have been cases of coronavirus reported in at least 39 countries, with most cases involving people who traveled from China. The disease has affected global markets and has exacerbated political tensions worldwide.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news briefing that coronavirus will almost certainly spread to the U.S, adding that cities and towns should take “social distancing measures,” such as holding smaller classes or closing schools completely.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Messonnier said.

Back in Ithaca, anxieties surrounding coronavirus have continued to permeate campus. The University said in an email on Jan. 23 that it would work with local and state authorities to monitor the outbreak, although it said the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in Ithaca remains low.

The China and Asia-Pacific studies program canceled its Beijing trip — a graduation requirement for CAPS majors — because of the outbreak, sending students scrambling to figure out courses and housing arrangements for the spring semester.

Kotlikoff also wrote in a previous email to the Cornell community that students would be barred from traveling to China for Cornell-related purposes. Faculty members could still travel to China, if they received clearance from Cornell’s International Travel and Response Team.

In February, two Cornell students mirrored symptoms similar to coronavirus, which led the CDC to administer tests. Ultimately, the students tested negative for the disease.

This article has been updated.