In the afternoon of 28 January, the fourth and last day of the Lunar New Year holiday, when most CUHK staff were psyching themselves up to get back to work the next day, their phones pinged simultaneously with an incoming message: to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, all staff, except for those who provide essential services, are not required to return to the office but to continue to work from home. Though the hands may be running a little slow, the clock ticks on, thanks to staff across academic, administrative and professional strata who have been working hard behind the scenes to keep it going while holding the outbreak in check.
Starting from early January, the University's Committee on Health Promotion and Protection has been closely monitoring the development of the COVID-19 situation and taking into account the recommendations of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health. The University Health Service (UHS) has also stepped up health surveillance on campus.
Prof. David Hui, Chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, gave a range of tips to the CUHK community for preventing exposure to and infection with COVID-19 in two video clips released on 22 and 23 January. His advice include: establish a good personal hygiene and wash the hands frequently; wear a surgical mask in a crowded place; if one comes back to Hong Kong from the mainland and catch a fever or show symptoms of a respiratory illness, approach the nearest accident and emergency hospital department to seek immediate medical attention.
After announcing on 24 January the cancellation of exchange programmes and the suspension of short-term academic activities in mainland China, the University decided the next day that classes would not resume until 17 February. The Emergency Response Level—the second highest in the health alert ladder—was activated, in an attempt to rise to a situation where the risk of a novel virus causing new and serious impact to human health in Hong Kong is high and imminent. An Emergency Response Group led by Prof. Rocky S. Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President, was established to direct and coordinate the University's efforts to combat COVID-19.
Special measures implemented under the Emergency Response Level include health declaration and continuous self-monitoring for 14 days with the relevant forms for all students and staff. It is also advised that all staff should start filling out and submitting the relevant forms as soon as possible and in any case no later than the first day of returning to the office after the period of special work arrangement.
Teaching and Learning in the Time of COVID-19
The University has switched to online teaching for most of its programmes and courses starting from 17 February. On-campus teaching will be resumed when circumstances allow, with notifications made 14 days in advance. To allow room for completion of courses, a two-week extension is given to the second term, which now ends on 2 May.
During this time, teachers and students are advised to take part in classes, discussions and other teaching and learning activities via the Zoom online platform, which supports video and audio conferencing, simple and safe web meetings or seminars with sharing, co-annotation, polling and other collaborative features, complete with recording and archiving functions. The University has strengthened its network capacity and stability, and provided hardware support to needy students.
The University has organized 22 online workshops to assist teachers, students and supporting staff from all Faculties to get familiar with the online teaching facilities and to provide training. Classrooms in Yasumoto International Academic Park, Wu Ho Man Yuen and Lee Shau Kee Buildings have been reserved for teachers in need of conducting online teaching on the premises.
The CUHK Library has made resources available and introduced new services to support online teaching and learning, such as retrieving books, purchasing e-versions of academic materials, and a new print to e-copy—turning a print book into an e-copy—service.
Love All, Trust All, Do Wrong to None
CUHK is not just working hard to minimize disruption to its campus operation and academic activities, but also ensure it looks after the wider community with compassion and actual help. To mitigate the shortage of disinfectants in the market, Prof. Dennis Ng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of the Department of Chemistry, collaborated with his colleagues in the department and the University Safety Office to prepare over 200 litres of 75% alcohol-based handrub and distribute them to students staying in hostels, frontline staff, and charities that have partnered with the University.
As of 10 February, about 100 litres of the handrub has been distributed to 15 CUHK-partnered charities to answer the urgent needs of the elderly and other underprivileged groups. ‘If circumstances allow, we will continue to prepare more alcohol-based handrub for combating the novel coronavirus,’ Professor Ng said.
It has been an extremely challenging start to the year of 2020. But at this time when the threat of the new virus looms large, with a humble and grateful heart, we can still transform the deadliest strain into a cleansing flow that replenishes our body and soul. These are the days when we inquire if our friends and family get enough supplies of face masks; when we work from home to maintain a reasonable level of services; when we share hilarious memes to light up one another’s mood; and when we step up our game with new communication and teaching methods that testify to the eternal truth of the re-valuation of all values.