By Steven Bonifazi
North Forty News
Semester at Sea, a Fort Collins-based program, hosted by Colorado State University, has diverted its Spring 2020 Voyage as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in China.
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According to an update on SAS’s site at semesteratsea.org, the choice to divert from Shanghai, China was influenced by a number of organizations advising against travel to and from China. A few of those organizations include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Thursday, January 30.
As a result of the diversion from China, the Spring 2020 program extended its stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by a total of seven days. Scheduled to arrive in Vietnam on Tuesday, Feb. 11, SAS students and faculty arrived Tuesday, February 4 instead.
Nevertheless, the SAS program is no stranger to changing itineraries, especially if the safety of their voyagers is at risk in any way. “We are very risk-averse, so even before the WHO called it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, we said we are going to change it anyway, we are not taking our students there,” said Layne Hanson, Vice President of Public Affairs for SAS.
The coronavirus has caused concern for people around the world. Countries like Vietnam have shut down their schools on top of denying entrance to people incoming from China, including SAS voyagers who only hold Chinese passports.
“These countries are really fearful, so even if the students release medical records or immigration history, they still don’t have to let them in so it is really up to the country were going to,” said Seng. This is Seng’s second voyage with SAS, where she serves as part of a three-person team in the field office, planning all in-country excursions that take place with a focus on field classes.
Staff members on the ship have been committed to making those students not able to leave the ship feel included through activities such as dinner with the captain.
During a WhatsApp interview from a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Stephanie Seng, Assistant Director of Field Classes and Programs for SAS and current voyager of the Spring 2020 voyage reassured that the ship staff is giving students with Chinese passports a great experience regardless.
“They’re doing a lot of special things on the ship for them to try to give them a positive experience while they’re stuck in the ship in Vietnam and potentially future ports as well,” said Seng.
Since diverting from China, safety protocols have risen, ensuring no one contracts the virus. SAS faculty are monitoring when voyagers get on and off the ship, making sure that they use hand sanitizer as well as when they go out to eat in ports.
The safety measures SAS’s current voyage is taking are helping to protect every voyager on board. In addition to that, they are also providing the entire shipboard community a much-needed sense of relief in the face of fear from the coronavirus as well as a disappointment due to change in itineraries.
“People have been amazingly calm and reassured by the safety precautions that have been taken,” said Seng. “I don’t feel any sense of over the top worry or panic, just normal reasonable caution,” she said.