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How is the novel coronavirus outbreak affecting schools and universities?

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Students and their parents wearing a face mask arrive at the Jean-de-la-Fontaine school in Crepy-en-Valois (Oise), northern France. Source: AFP/Francois Nascimbeni

Around 1.5 billion young people and children, accounting for almost 90 percent of the world’s student population, are affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

More than one million people have been infected and 67,594 have died from the virus at the time of writing.

It all began in China, where the virus first emerged late last year, prompting the country to quarantine entire cities, temporarily shut factories and close schools indefinitely. Today, around one-third of humanity is under a virus lockdown, as leaders around the world ratchet efforts to stifle the spread of the disease.

But universities, are rising to the challenge, offering their resources and manpower as well as working alongside government, health services and their local communities.

In the UK, universities are providing thousands of medical and nursing student volunteers and supplying specialist equipment and facilities worth millions of pounds to support the NHS.

Chief Executive of Universities UK Alistair Jarvis said: “Universities have responded in the face of this unprecedented challenge with great determination and invention.”

“Coordinating projects aimed at discovering a vaccine or improving testing, providing specialist equipment and university space, or building understanding of how the virus spreads are just some examples of universities contribution to local communities and national efforts.”

“The expertise and skills of university staff and students are central to the fight against COVID-19. The spirit and tenacity shown by university staff and students is inspiring and will continue to be vital as we look to come through these testing times and move forward as a sector and a nation.”

According to the representative body, thousands of students from 35 UK universities have opted to join NHS frontline staff.

At New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, half the 2020 class graduated virtually last Friday, the final step for many of them eager to join the fight.

Speaking to the New York Times, vice dean of the Grossman school Dr Steven Abramson said: “The country needs to mobilise people.”

“Last time this happened was in World War II, when medical schools were shortened to three years.”

The graduating class urged NYU to get the graduating class to start work in hospitals immediately. Their effort was fruiftul – a group would proceed to work for 30 days in one of four hospitals affiliated with NYU, with optional two-week extensions.

Graduate Mark S Cort said: “I sent my mom a text, ‘NYU is drafting medical students to help fight Covid”.

“She immediately called me. She knows I’m pretty hardheaded. She made sure that I knew she loved me, and that she would be praying for me.”

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