Coronavirus prompts U of M, St. Thomas to suspend some study-abroad programs

Concern in South Korea as COVID-19 spreads.
A disinfection professional wears protective gear while spraying antiseptic solution to fight COVID-19 at a market on Feb. 26 in Seoul, South Korea.
Chung Sung-Jun | Getty Images file

The spread of COVID-19 cases is prompting Minnesota universities to suspend some study-aboard programs.

The University of St. Thomas announced Friday that it is canceling the remainder of its St. John Vianney/Catholic Studies Semester programs in Rome. And the University of Minnesota said Thursday that it is suspending student travel and study-abroad programs in South Korea.

Italy and South Korea are among several countries that have seen a rapid increase in coronavirus cases in recent days.

St. Thomas' Bernardi campus in Rome will officially close next Friday; the move affects about 50 students. School officials said that while health risks to students in Italy remain low, the situation is evolving and they wanted to be proactive.

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"The decision to close our campus for the semester was not taken lightly," the university said in a statement posted online. "A team of university officials monitoring the COVID-19 situation has been meeting regularly since January, and frequently communicated with Bernardi leaders this week as the situation escalated. We simply cannot predict how COVID-19 will continue to spread throughout Italy, and we believe it is in the best interests of our students to leave Rome before the ability to do so is restricted."

St. Thomas officials are making arrangements for the affected students to continue their coursework in St. Paul.

The University of Minnesota's decision this week on its South Korea programs follows a previously announced suspension of programs in China.

"A major factor was the U.S. Department of State’s decision to raise South Korea’s travel advisory countrywide to a Level 3. Recent announcements of reduction in air service to South Korea may also make an exit from the country more difficult in the coming weeks or months," the university said in a statement posted online. "This decision does not apply to faculty and staff travel; however, the university is advising against travel to South Korea for the foreseeable future."

The U of M said the decision affects 30 students who were registered to be in South Korea for university purposes.