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uOttawa and Queen’s suspend school programs, trips to China due to coronavirus

A passenger wearing a respiratory mask speaks on her smartphone by the departures board on January 31, 2020 at Rome's Fiumicino airport, as a number of airlines halted or reduced flights to China as the country struggles to contain the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. - The Italian government said on January 30, 2020 it was suspending all flights between Italy and China, adding it was the first EU government to do so. China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries have urged their citizens to avoid travel to China. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images). Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images

The University of Ottawa and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., have both decided to suspend university programs and university-sponsored travel to China in response to recent government travel advisories and public health declarations about the new coronavirus outbreak.

The Government of Canada has encouraged Canadians to avoid “non-essential travel” to China and all travel to Hubei province as health officials around the globe work to limit the spread of the new virus, which the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday.

Click to play video: 'WHO declares coronavirus a global health emergency' WHO declares coronavirus a global health emergency
WHO declares coronavirus a global health emergency – Jan 30, 2020

Citing WHO’s global health emergency declaration and the government’s travel advisories, uOttawa announced Friday it was suspending “all operations in China” until further notice, which includes all university programming involving China and all school-sponsored trips to the country.

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“The University has been in contact with our students who are currently in China to ensure their well-being,” the school wrote in an update on coronavirus on its webpage dated Jan. 31.

“We are also in contact with our students across Asia to ask that they take all possible precautionary measures.”

READ MORE: New coronavirus an international public health emergency, WHO declares

The message said students whose travel plans are impacted by the new policy should consult their supervisor or a program manager “to assess potential alternatives.” The school also urges faculty and staff members to “share any travel plans to Asia with their deans or directors.”

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“The university will make every effort to prevent or mitigate any potential impact on academic activities,” the university said.

uOttawa declined to comment further on Friday afternoon.

Click to play video: 'Number of infected rises in China as coronavirus continues to spread' Number of infected rises in China as coronavirus continues to spread
Number of infected rises in China as coronavirus continues to spread – Jan 31, 2020

For its part, Carleton University is asking students with plans to travel internationally to contact the school’s international student services office. A spokesperson confirmed the university has not issued any further advisories at this time.

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Asked whether Algonquin College has modified or cancelled any school operations or travel in response to the new coronavirus outbreak, a spokesperson provided the following statement via email:

“No travel (to China) has been interrupted and we will assess future travel plans based on travel advisories from Global Affairs Canada.”

Queen’s asking students to register trips to China

Queen’s also announced on Friday they have cancelled all exchanges, practicums and independent studies in China for the winter semester in light of the outbreak.

University-sponsored travel to China, such as recruitment trips, are also cancelled for the time being but the Kingston university is not asking faculty and graduate students to avoid travel to the country.

Those connected to Queen’s who still want to travel to China are now required to register the trip through the university’s off-campus activity safety policy.

“The university has a responsibility to manage risks associated with its operations,” the Queen’s policy reads.

Click to play video: 'Queen’s University hosts an expert panel on the Wuhan coronavirus' Queen’s University hosts an expert panel on the Wuhan coronavirus
Queen’s University hosts an expert panel on the Wuhan coronavirus – Jan 30, 2020

By registering travel under this policy, the university will work with the traveller to create an “activity safety plan.” If the university finds the risk to be too great, they will not sanction the travel.

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The policy also allows for Queen’s staff to gather information from the traveller’s experiences abroad, and to disseminate that information to faculty and students if the need arises.

Spokespersons for St. Lawrence College in Kingston and Loyalist College in Belleville said that all staff have agreed not to travel to China on any official business.

The Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston did not immediately respond when asked if they had updated any policies regarding travel to China.

READ MORE: How Alberta schools are responding to the coronavirus in China

Elsewhere in Canada, the University of Calgary announced it was temporarily suspending all university-related travel to China.

–With a file from Global News’ Karen Bartko

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