Students at Duke campus in China being sent home as coronavirus spreads

Posted January 27, 2020 7:09 p.m. EST
Updated January 28, 2020 12:30 p.m. EST

— While many people in China are on lockdown, as health officials try to contain a rapidly spreading coronavirus strain, students at Duke Kunshan University are being encouraged to return to their home countries.

"The majority of kids on campus are in the midst of leaving right now or have left already," Charlie Colasurdo, a freshman from Connecticut, said via FaceTime from Hong Kong's airport on Monday.

Duke offered students $1,000 travel stipends to help them get home.

"This virus is very serious, but in the grand scheme of things, the flu kills more people than the coronavirus," Colasurdo said. "As far as my parents, they’re really just excited to have me back for a little bit longer."

DKU, a partnership of Duke University and Wuhan University that has a campus near Shanghai, was already scheduled to be closed for a lunar new year holiday. That break was supposed to be just a week long, but officials have extended it through at least Feb. 17.

But WRAL News has learned that a handful of DKU graduate students aren't able to go home because the Chinese government has their passports.

Duke Vice President Michael Schoenfeld said those students are in a business school program and split their time between Durham and the China campus.

"Because the government offices were closed for the weekend and the holiday, several of them were not able to get access to their passports," Schoenfeld said. "We expect, if that has not been resolved already, it’ll be resolved in the next day or so."

Duke officials said Tuesday that all DKU students had received their passports and were free to leave China.

Colasurdo said new DKU students also initially have to turn over their passports to establish Chinese residency.

Schoenfeld said that, as the coronavirus continues to spread, DKU officials are taking every precaution.

"The safety, the health and the security of our students and faculty and staff and members of the DKU community is and always will be the highest priority," Schoenfeld said. "The team there is working truly around the clock, 24/7, to monitor the situation."

Colasurdo said DKU officials activated an emergency response center last week and had been providing students regular updates about the coronavirus and the campus' response.

"They distributed masks to everyone. They launched a whole roll-out of different protocols in terms of extra cleaning," he said. "They’ve been very transparent with us."

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.