Chinese universities adopt flexible COVID-19 curbs ahead of National Day

By Chen Shasha and Yu Xi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/21 21:25:59

A student scans a QR code to register her health information at the west gate of Wuhan University in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, on June 8, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese universities have adopted more flexible COVID-19 precution management, to balance virus prevention and students' daily need for travel ahead of the upcoming National Day holidays, after tough measures in some colleges sparked controversy.

Xi'an International Studies University (XISU) made headlines on Sunday after videos emerged featuring students yelling from their rooms at midnight, asking the school to "lift the lockdown" and "solve the problems" caused by the university's strict closed-off campus rules.

A junior XISU student who asked to be anonymous told the Global Times on Monday the strict lockdown had led to higher prices for commodities, because there are few shops; and difficulties in taking a shower.

Students vented their anger, as shown in the videos. The topic of closed-off management at XISU triggered heated discussion on Chinese Twitter-like Sina Weibo, with over 420 million reads as of press time. 

XISU said on Monday that it will simplify the procedures for students to go out, but it will also ask students not to leave the city if not necessary. It said it will extend service hours for meals and showers, manage express delivery issues, and crack down on price hikes. 

The junior student confirmed to the Global Times that students can exit and enter the campus freely now with their student ID cards and "green health code."

Since universities in China re-opened in early September, debates have gone on about precautions, including closed-off management rules. The discussions resumed ahead of the eight-day national holiday on October 1, after some schools forbade students to leave during the holiday. 

Schools are trying to seek a balance between epidemic prevention and a return to something like normal.

A teacher surnamed Qu from Shanghai Ocean University told the Global Times on Monday that students only need to notify the school when they go out, but they need approval if they go out for more than one day.

Some are exploring improved measures. Peking University began the new semester on Sunday using a half closed-cycle system that allows students to go in and out upon application. 

"Students can apply online in advance each time," a faculty member surnamed Liang told the Global Times on Monday. Those who fail to report or give a false excuse will be warned, and two or three warnings will result in a 15-day ban.

The school also set up mobile dining cars and temporary dining spots outside canteens to ensure students get their meals efficiently and reduce the risk of cross-infection. "There are a range of measures that I think are effective and can meet the needs of teachers and students and ensure epidemic control," Liang said.

The education authority in East China's Jiangxi Province announced in mid-September it would relax closed-off management, while students with "green health codes" could enter campuses freely with basic precautions such as temperature checking.

On September 18, the Ministry of Education told universities to "dynamically adjust campus control measures." For students who really need to enter and exit schools due to internships, job searches and other reasons, the procedures shall be simplified, said the notice. 

The ministry said that schools should "avoid a one-size-fits-all approach" in campus management.

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