Chinese students at the University of Sydney in Australia have launched a petition to delay the start of their semester over fears that they may be unable to return in time following a travel ban due to Novel Coronavirus.
It comes after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Feb. 1 announced that travelers who have left or passed through China will be denied entry, with the exception of Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family. However, all travelers among this group will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
The petition, set up by the University of Sydney Student Representative Council (SRC), Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, and the University of Sydney Union, calls for a delay to the start date of the upcoming semester from its original date of Feb. 24 to March 9, and a delay to the census date to April 14.
It also asks for online courses to be provided to students who are unable to return to Australia on time.
Student newspaper Honi Soit reported that the petition has so far gained over 4,000 electronic signatures from international students, and at least five Chinese student societies have expressed their support for the petition, including the Sydney University Chinese Student Association, Chinese Law Student Society, and China Development Society.
SRC International Student Office Bearer Kigen Mera told the outlet that the “ramifications of missing a semester of study for international students can be very sophisticated,” and that students in China will need to extend their student visas to catch up.
“Some of us already paid rent and other financial expenses for next semester, which will go to waste if we are to commence as usual,” Mera added.
Despite the petition, the university said it will be sticking to the original semester start date of Feb. 24, meaning that returning Chinese students risk being absent for two weeks and may face added academic pressure.
“This news means that a significant number of our students may not be able to join us for the start of semester as hoped. Naturally, many of our students will find this news upsetting and will be looking to the university for support,” Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr. Michael Spence said in a statement.
The university said it has offered its Chinese students “reassurance that we will do all we can to help them continue their studies and that we look forward to welcoming them as soon as they are able to travel. We will shortly be communicating with both continuing and commencing students from China to better understand their individual needs.”
According to Financial Review, there were 164,716 Chinese students enrolled in Australian higher education last year, and the recent ban by the Australian government is expected to eliminate as much as $6 billion off university revenues.
Health experts have been comparing the Novel Coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV, with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), all belonging to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses which are believed to have originated from animals before spreading to humans.
The first people infected by the virus are believed to have visited or worked at a seafood market in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began in December.
Australia now has 13 confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus after an 8-year-old boy from Wuhan was isolated in a Queensland hospital, where he remains in a stable condition. The child was a member of a tour group traveling in Australia in late January and two others from the same group, a man, 44, and a woman, 42, also had the virus, health officials said.