Provided by Tom Ulmet on February 8, 2020.

With many cities appearing in the media, eerily covered in fog and with abandoned streets, or queues of mask-covered people standing in long lines for more face masks, a fearful image is transmitted across the world. Our friends at OT&P Healthcare in Hong Kong indicate that the psychology of fear is more difficult to deal with than the actual corona virus (2019-nCoV). "As explained in a previous message, we are currently seeing two epidemics. An epidemic of infection and an epidemic of anxiety. Information and education are key factors in the management of infectious and contagious disease. It remains our opinion that given balanced and rational explanations of unfolding uncertainties, most people will be less anxious about the Coronavirus epidemic."

Good knowledge, information, and communication with families helps greatly to deal with this.  Therefore, rather than provide daily body counts that you can find yourself, we would like to help you be equipped with the best sources of information. Several of us old-timers in ACAMIS were reminiscing back to the days of SARS in 2003 and making comparisons. We realized that we had somehow coped with SARS; H1N1 (Swine Flu); H7N9 (Asian Flu); Coxsackievirus A16 (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease); and MERS. As nearly 50% of ACAMIS Heads are new in the past three years and have not experienced these types of viruses, we will be sharing perspectives such as these.

Download the update on Coronavirus by OT&P Hong Kong on February 7, 2020


1. Overall Conditions Are Much Better

Corona viruses like these seem to appear about every four years. Not to underestimate the importance of them or their dangers, we noted that amidst the usual media hype, there are many more positive things this time.

  • Detection methods have improved and are much faster
  • Diagnosis is dramatically faster, more reliable, and from a single test
  • Although no vaccine is yet available, treatment for those who seek help in time is remarkably advanced
  • Containment measures already taken, some of which are frightening and fear generating, are significantly stronger and much more effective. There could be more to come as conditions change.
  • In China, within the international community, these viruses never led to more than a handful of hospitalized people, mostly in the early stages from those attending business meetings in affected areas or on flights.
  • Prevention methods seem simple but quite useful. Before school resumes, we will share hygiene and prevention techniques that help immensely.
  • These viruses tend to do most damage to weakened hosts. WHO indicates most deaths are among the aged, infirm, those who smoke and have weak lungs or those with weak immune systems and, sadly, the poor. Most people in the international community do not have much contact with these groups, except perhaps through business. Therefore, the working spouse with local contact is the most exposed.


2. The Irony:

With school closings in most eastern provinces until March 2, there is little incentive for the international community to remain in China. Many have chosen to return home. Here is the news from CDC about the situation in the US that is not reported on national news because the sensationalism of the coronavirus in China takes precedence. While not a corona virus, the seasonal influenza in the US in the past four months is far worse in every way and everyone is exposed to it. Still, people feel safer there because the important methods of containment put in place in China are not evident in the US except to bar entry to those arriving from China. However, the flu kills the same susceptible groups as in China, but in larger numbers and for some reason we seem to accept that as a factor of life. Periodically, we will share major trends and hygiene tips. To help keep you informed, we are creating a special link on our website to register steps taken and the best resources for information.


3.  ACAMIS Student Activities

In reviewing our own ACAMIS Event Calendar, we were reminded of the richness and extent of activities for students and staff. We have taken the precaution of working with host schools to cancel all six remaining basketball tournaments and they cannot be rescheduled. The ACE events in February (robotics, Debate for Change, etc.) have all been postponed and will be re-evaluated as conditions change. We have learned to be safe, but not to overreact. We are also monitoring the daily reports as well as looking ahead to March. Here is a shortcut to the ACAMIS Events Calendar. For postponed items, the host school will follow up to reschedule when the time is right. 


4.   Spring Leadership Conference

We have been in close ongoing communication with our host school and appropriate government agencies and an announcement about the status of Spring Leadership Conference will be sent this week. We appreciate your patience with this very much.


5.   ACAMIS PD Academia Workshops through March

We have been working closely with Michael Iannini and host schools to re-schedule workshops through March. Registration was strong for each of them and the host schools have shown wonderful understanding, support and flexibility.  Michael will continue to explore alternate dates that will be shared and posted on our website as they become known.


6.   Quarantine and Transportation Restrictions

  • Flights on most international airlines from the US to major cities in China are cancelled through March 24.
  • Foreign visitors traveling to the US from China will not be allowed entry
  • Internal transportation in China is limited and unpredictable


Most schools may not have seen the actual regulations in January regarding the containment effort.  Translated in the document from the original Chinese, "All personnel returning from outside must strengthen their self-protection and observe themselves at home for 14 days." Monitoring stations in many housing units now check this.


7.    Beware of the definition of Quarantine

The interpretation of how to apply quarantine and when it begins may differ from province to province. In some places, when school closings were announced from the end of Chinese New Year Holiday to February 17, the 14-day quarantine was built into the time frame for all those who remained in their city. Anyone returning from outside the city was subject to the self-quarantine. With the extended closings, many families and staff may have left China. Even if schools may be allowed to open on March 2, all returning families (and teaching staff) may be subject to the 14-day self-quarantine which means that even though school is open, teachers may not be able to report and students may not be able to attend until two weeks later. Therefore, it is advisable to check with your Education Bureau to see how quarantine will be applied. It may be necessary to have teachers return two weeks before schools reopen so they fulfill the quarantine by the time school opens. Again, this may vary by province/city. Those who returned to the US and a few other countries, have to undergo self-quarantine when they arrive at their destination and again when they reenter China. Again, this may differ from city to city, province to province, but you would be wise to take this into account. When, where and for whom does the quarantine clock start ticking? We are fortunate that the original Latin meaning of quarantine = forty days is now left to those issuing the guidelines.

8.  US Airlines Cancel Flights

The main US airlines to China, Delta, United and American, have all announced cancellation of all flights to China. American through March 28 and United through March 30 and Delta through April 30. Flights to Hong Kong by American and United will halt through February 20 and then be reassessed. Other countries may have similar flight cancellations. This means that even if schools reopen on March 2, those who left China or Hong Kong may not be able to return until flights resume and then face the possibility of self-quarantine for 14 days. What incentive is there then to return?


9.  Brace for Decreasing Enrolments

Only time will tell, but during past citizen evacuations, in some areas it took up to two years for the departing population to be replaced. Hong Kong faces a double hit because of demonstrations and now virus evacuations, this just at a time when international schools are growing in number, intensifying the competition for students.


10.   A Light in the Darkness.

According to the CDC, the other viruses mentioned at the outset of this message all developed into epi- or pandemics at some point in February. This type of declaration can lead to increased fear, but this designation only means the disease is present in a certain number of countries and the alert triggers additional measures. In the past, by the end of March, person to person transmission began to wane as the viruses mutated and weakened. By June or July, they all disappeared on their own as viruses do not transmit well in warm weather. The psychology of combatting these types of diseases is often more difficult than the disease due to fear.  Even though the numbers may increase for a few weeks, containment efforts are working. "In summary, the declaration of the global emergency now does not indicate a worsening of the immediate situation in China or Hong Kong."

In the initial phase of a major threat there is often confusion with fear and great concerns voiced all around school leaders. As spring weather approaches this will begin to look different. Still people will look to you for answers that are often hard to come by. If we can help, we are here for you. Meanwhile, read up, be patient, be understanding, be confident, be encouraging and be strong. In the midst of complexity and uncertainty, your communities will value these qualities and recognize good leadership!

And be safe!