Zero tolerance approach to COVID delays semester start

China’s ‘Zero-tolerance’ approach to COVID-19 clusters in several major university cities, such as Nanjing, Tianjing, Beijing and Shanghai, has led to delays in the start of the new semester that had been scheduled to begin in September.

In other areas, universities have reimposed strict campus entry and exit rules, and have imposed new controls on students travelling to campus from medium- and high-risk areas for the start of term. Many universities have strengthened campus restrictions which have been in place most of this year, even when there were few COVID-19 cases in the country.

China’s eastern city of Nanjing in Jiangsu province reported 317 cases of COVID-19 by Wednesday, 4 August, which has alarmed the city authorities. They closed the city airport and restricted highway traffic in and out of the city.

Nanjing University of Science and Technology is issuing a circular to students not to return after the summer break at the end of this month. Another Nanjing institution, Nanjing Tech University, this week closed off its campus, with strict rules on leaving and entering. Others require written permission to leave the campus.

Most serious outbreak since Wuhan

The Nanjing outbreak is considered to be the country’s most serious outbreak since the initial outbreak in Wuhan was brought under control.

Southeast University in Nanjing has delayed registration for new students. Registration had been due to begin on 18 August.

According to official reports, the outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Nanjing has already spread to about 20 cities around the country, with small outbreaks in Shanghai and Beijing, following an earlier outbreak in June in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Tianjin University has said it will postpone the semester start by a week from 14 August to 21 August, with registration of all new students postponed to 25 to 26 August instead of 19 August.

Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University has said it will delay the registration of all new students for the upcoming academic year due to begin in September and said that students from medium- and high-risk COVID areas – including anyone who had been in Nanjing since 20 July – should not return to the campus.

Students reported that some flights and trains to Beijing had been cancelled in the first week of August as part of the measures to control the virus after a handful of cases were reported in the capital. The city authorities said rail, bus and air links had been suspended to areas where COVID-19 cases have been detected.

Several other Beijing universities, including Beijing Language and Culture University, have said students from medium- and high-risk areas should delay their return to campus. Fudan University in Shanghai has issued a similar announcement.

Tongji University in Shanghai asked teachers and students from high- and medium-risk areas to delay their return to campus. Teachers and students already on campus or from lower-risk areas must upload their health status before being allowed to register.

Students asked not to return

The Nanjing University of Science and Technology asked students not to return after summer holidays.

The universities’ change of plans followed notices issued by primary and high schools postponing the start of the new term in a number of regions.

China’s Ministry of Education said on 5 August that, whether the new semester could start on schedule would depend on the local situation with students in high- and medium-risk regions told to stay at home without providing a new date for the start of term.

In some regions, only fully vaccinated students aged 12 to 17 will be able to return in September in time for the beginning for the new semester. Country authorities in Jiangxi, Guanxi, Henan and Shaanxi provinces have said only students from households where all family members have been vaccinated will be allowed to start the new term in September.

China has swiftly rolled out the vaccine, with officials saying about 800 million doses have been administered. But the education ministry said last week that vaccinations for 12- to 17-year-olds would be stepped up in advance of school beginning, in a bid to control the fast-spreading Delta variant.

COVID-19 prevention and control is the top priority for the new semester’s work, a China Ministry of Education official, Liu Peijung, told a press conference on 5 August.

China has faced only relatively minor outbreaks of COVID-19 over the past year owing to mass testing, centralised quarantine and other strictly enforced measures. Universities in Beijing started vaccination campaigns for students and staff as early as the end of March, and universities in other parts of China have followed suit.