BERKELEY, Calif. - The University of California at Berkeley will turn away new students from SARS-infected China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong this summer in what is believed to be the first such move by a major U.S. university to prevent the spread of the virus.
The decision, announced on the campus Web site Friday, affects several hundred students who were planning to attend Berkeley for the summer term that begins May 27. Instead, those students will get their money back.
There have been no cases of SARS at Berkeley, which has about 700 students now enrolled on campus from the four regions hit hardest by the virus. The school anticipates fewer than 100 new students from those areas this fall.
"After close consultation with several public health officials and campus experts, and based on the strong recommendation of the City of Berkeley health officer, I deeply regret that we will not be accepting enrollments of students from these areas," campus Chancellor Robert Berdahl said in a message on the Web site.
While many American universities have wrestled with how to deal with severe acute respiratory syndrome, the flu-like illness that has killed more than 450 people and sickened more than 6,500, mostly in Asia, Berkeley's outright ban on incoming students is unusual.
Victor Johnson, executive director of the Association of International Educators in Washington, which promotes the exchange of scholars to and from the United States, had not heard of any other school taking such a step.
Berdahl said Berkeley decided on a ban because students coming from SARS-affected areas would have to be monitored for 10 days and if any developed SARS-related symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would require elaborate precautions, including "isolation and other labor-intensive measures that we are not able to provide currently."
University officials are working on creating such a system, Associate Chancellor John Cummins said Monday.
Students who go home to China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong for the summer and those who arrive from those places this fall will be required to fill out detailed questionnaires and will be monitored by university health officials, Berdahl wrote. He said the policy will end if the CDC lifts travel advisories to the affected areas.
The SARS outbreak has prompted other U.S. schools to cancel Asian summer study programs, researchers to shelve cooperative projects with Chinese scholars, and Asians enrolled in American colleges to abandon plans to return home after final exams.
SARS has been much talked about at Berkeley, where some students seemed unfazed by the new policy.
"I think it's understandable," said Vicky Choy, a junior from Hong Kong who already decided not to go home this summer because of SARS. Her parents had planned to visit her in California but called it off for fear the long plane trip could expose them to sick passengers.
Berdahl is also recommending that faculty, staff and students not travel to SARS-affected areas. UC Berkeley previously suspended a study abroad program in Beijing this summer and has recalled all students who were studying there.
Tony Au, a senior from Hong Kong, wondered if the school was overreacting with its summer school decision. Au said it makes sense for officials to try to keep SARS out, but wasn't sure the new policy would do that.
"SARS is everywhere," he said. Au said he normally returns to Hong Kong for the summer, but won't this year because "I'm afraid I won't get back."