Is there a plan of action in response to coronavirus?

“We have an emergency organisation which focuses on all kinds of emergencies. These might be incidents which take place physically on campus, or things like coronavirus. That team now consists of people from student affairs, HR, communications, real estate and a director of operations from a faculty and it meets three times a week. If necessary, it can meet more often. We are prepared for every eventuality, but there’s no specific plan for illnesses.”

At Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and TU Delft, the advice is not to shake hands with people. That’s still allowed here. How do you explain that difference?

“At TU Delft, the coronavirus has already been confirmed in a student, but we haven’t got it yet. But even then, advising not to shake hands deviates from the RIVM guidelines. RIVM says that shaking hands isn’t a problem so long as you consistently follow the rules of hygiene. Obviously, there will be people here who prefer not to shake hands and that’s fine too. I’m sure we can respect each other’s feelings in this.”

Suppose a student or member of staff at EUR gets coronavirus. How do you find out and what happens then?

“One of the things we do in the team is develop scenarios, and that’s one of them. In principle, we find out through staff or HR or via the faculties when people report that they’ve got it. The GGD does a contact survey and reports to the medical officers if anyone has been in contact with someone infected with the virus.”

What’s the scenario if a student or staff member has coronavirus?

“That’s difficult to say, there’s not one single scenario. It depends: has the person been on campus, how did they get infected? The scenarios we develop consider the impact on education, research, operational management and events.”

But when should the lecture halls be closed?

“That would be a very serious measure, because that affects the students’ study programme. We will close them if we are instructed to do so by the mayor in compliance with the Public Health Act, for example, but we’re hoping that won’t be necessary. On the other hand, the safety of students and staff is key, so we’ll obviously do what’s necessary. We’re in constant communication with the Executive Board and the faculties. For staff: if you are more susceptible to getting the virus because you have a weakened immune system due to illness, you may talk to your manager about working from home. A few cases are known, but I don’t have any statistics to show whether that will really result in more staff absence.”

Markt Wuhan – wikimedia commons – sistema 12

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Other countries sometimes have stricter measures against coronavirus than the Netherlands. Do you get questions from students, particularly international students, about why that is?

“Yes, we do. They sometimes see different measures being implemented in their home countries than here. But our guidelines are based on the Dutch healthcare system of GPs, GGD and the RIVM, which has a very good network of labs and hospitals. And I have great confidence in them. Consistent hygiene is the best measure. That’s the most important factor: people’s behaviour will determine how fast the virus spreads. If we regularly wash our hands, cough into our elbows and use paper tissues, we limit the spread of all viruses which cause flu and colds.”

On a daily updated page, the university gives advice on how to deal with coronavirus.