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Coronavirus: B.C. university launches virtual tours amid growing COVID-19 fears

Trinity Western University is offering VR headsets to prospective students who want to tour the campus amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Trinity Western University is offering VR headsets to prospective students who want to tour the campus amid the coronavirus outbreak. Trinity Western University

A B.C. Christian university is going virtual in a bid to keep its annual spring recruiting weekend on track amid growing COVID-19 fears.

“We are making lemonade out of lemons,” said Scott Fehrenbacher, senior vice-president of external relations for Trinity Western University (TWU).

Fehrehnbacher said the weekend usually attracts would-be students from all over North America and the globe to tour the campus, meet staff and get a sense of life at TWU.

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But he said this year they are hearing concern from American students who would need to transit through COVID-19 hotspot Seattle, and international students who are nervous about transiting airports.

“We don’t expect that to go down in the next two weeks,” he said.

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It’s a concern Fehrenbacher understands first-hand. His son was trapped on the Diamond Princess cruise ship then U.S. quarantine for close to a month during the outbreak.

The school’s solution? Virtual reality headsets that will give prospective students the “next best thing” to an in-person campus tour.

“[They] are going to be able to capture the beauty of Vancouver and the beauty of our campus,” he said, “and give them the best immersive experience they can get without being here.”

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With the addition of a smartphone, the VR headsets will give users a 360-degree view, including campus and dorm tours, and an introduction from the school’s president.

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Fehrenbacher said the headsets will also allow the school to give the demo to more people.

“We do have a cap on how many people we can host here on campus. With a virtual reality headset we don’t have that cap,” he said.

The move echoes advice from B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who said Monday that companies should look at ways to avoid face-to-face meetings if possible.

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“Businesses can look at reducing travel [for] nonessential, particularly international travel, forgoing that for the time being, looking at virtual meetings,” she said.

“Obviously, it’s not for everybody, but making sure that that you can continue your business and have people work from home if that’s possible.

Would-be students can register for the virtual headsets at Trinity Western University’s website.

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The move comes as sporting events and conferences across the country postpone or alter events in order to decrease the risk of transmission.

Canadians are also being warned to avoid cruise ship travel, and concern is mounting about the effect of the virus on the tourism industry.

British Columbia announced Canada’s first death believed to be associated with COVID-19 on Monday

Canada now has at least 77 cases of the disease: 32 in British Columbia, 34 in Ontario, seven in Alberta and four in Quebec.

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