UU crisis team keeps close eye on effects of corona virus

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Now that the corona virus has reached the Netherlands, with a student in Delft among the patients, the question is what this will mean for Utrecht University. A special crisis team is keeping a close eye on the developments surrounding the virus, and answers the questions. UPDATE: Monday night all students and staff received an email. They are advised to refrain from shaking hands.

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“There’s no real crisis, but we are keeping a close watch on everything,” says president Anton Pijpers on Monday morning. The UU has a team of around seven people who work to adopt and adapt the national guidelines to the UU, as well as answer questions of students and employees. Crisis or no, the virus is the ultimate water cooler conversation topic.

On March 1, an update was published that included a strengthened advice. It mentions, among other things, that it’s best to stay home if you experience respiratory complaints, such as intensive coughing, if you’ve visited a country or region (like China or Italy) where the virus has spread, or if you’ve been in contact with a corona patient.

If you think it would be better not to come and you have a compulsory teaching activity, or an exam, you should contact the study advisor or the study point of the faculty by telephone or e-mail.  

Corona email address
The university is following the guidelines set by National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the RIVM. The UU site includes a lot of information about the virus. A special email address has also been created – coronavirus@uu.nl – which students and employees can email if they have questions. The people running the email account are members of a crisis team, who are originally from the department of Education, Research and Student Affairs, the HR department, and the Communications & Marketing department.

“We do have a lot of questions coming in at the moment,” says Clim Gorissen of the Education, Research and Student Affairs department. “These are mostly questions concerning the guidelines. When should I stay home? What if I’ve got an exam? And what if I’ve recently visited Italy? We’re currently looking at each question separately, and are following the RIVM guidelines.”

The university in Delft is taking things one step further than advised by the RIVM and public health service GGD, says university magazine Delta. That is because one of its students has returned from northern Italy infected with the virus. The university’s message seems to be employees should try to be on the safe side.

The 23-year old student is in isolation at home and is doing well. She acted quickly. The GGD is now investigating ten people the woman’s been in contact with.

Advice
The Delft University of Technology is asking its employees and students not to shake hands. This advice comes on top of the hygiene advice already in place, to wash your hands regularly, sneeze and cough into your elbow, and to use paper napkins.

The email that was sent Monday night says that also in Utrecht it is advised to refrain from shaking hands.

Eighteen cases of corona virus have now been reported in the Netherlands. In Tilburg – which has two known corona patients – the rules aren’t as strict as in Delft. Employees are urged to stay home if they experience symptoms and have visited an at-risk area.

The crisis team meets every day to discuss the next steps. Gorissen: “At the moment, we’re following the RIVM guidelines, but if it turns out we’ve got an infected student or employee here, we’ll implement other scenarios. We already have those scenarios ready, but for now, there’s no need to actually use them.”

How dangerous?
For UU scientists, the corona outbreak means they’re regularly asked about the consequences. Virologist Frank van Kuppeveld attended a special conference in Geneva, organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The goal: to prevent the corona virus outbreak from becoming a pandemic.

UU emeritus professor and former director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Control, Roel Coutinho, spoke in TV programme Buitenhof ( In Dutch, ed.) on Sunday, and remarked that these types of diseases, the ones that are transferred from animal to human, can never be entirely controlled. The problem, he says, is more the speed with which it spreads, and the fear of that, rather than the actual danger the disease itself poses. He praised the coordinated approach of the Dutch government, with the RIVM and GGD in the lead.

UU researchers Berend Jan Bosch and Raoul de Groot were the ones, in late January, who discovered the origin of the virus: that it had transferred to humans from a bat. They previously studied the diseases SARS and MERS. They’re working on the development of diagnostic tests, tracing and analysing protective antibodies. On Tuesday, March 10, at 8 pm, Raoul de Groot will host (link in Dutch, ed.) a pop-up lecture about the topic in the Anatomy Building. He’ll elaborate on the history of the virus, the development, and will talk about why it takes so long to find a vaccine in these types of outbreaks.

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