The University of California at Berkeley will turn away new students from Taiwan this summer in what is believed to be the first such move by a major US university to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The decision, which also applies to China, Singapore and Hong Kong, affects several hundred students who were planning to attend Berkeley for summer school, which begins May 27. Instead, those students will get their money back.
There have been no cases of SARS at Berkeley, which has a very large enrollment from the Asian regions hit hard by the potentially deadly virus.
"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 an message posted Friday on the university's Web site.
While many American universities have wrestled with how to deal with SARS, 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 US, 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 these countries for the summer, and new students arriving from Taiwan, China, Singapore and Hong Kong for the fall semester, will be required to fill out detailed questionnaires, and will be monitored by university health officials for 10 days after they arrive at Berkeley, Berdahl wrote.
"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.