Officials at UC Berkeley on Saturday lifted a ban on students from SARS-affected areas of Asia who have already enrolled in summer-school classes.
Word of the policy reversal came amid claims that the school overreacted this month to a potential threat from the flu-like illness when it banned summer-school students from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.
UC Berkeley officials were in Hong Kong -- where severe acute respiratory syndrome has killed 243 people -- to talk with health authorities when they made the announcement.
Berkeley Vice Chancellor Donald McQuade said at a news conference that the school will welcome 124 students -- the majority from Taiwan, with smaller numbers from Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China -- who have already enrolled in summer English-language classes.
University officials in the San Francisco Bay area said Saturday that the school had not yet decided what to do with prospective applicants. In a typical year 500 to 600 students enroll in summer classes, which run on a staggered schedule and start as late as August.
“Our goal is to have as many as we can,” university spokesman George Strait said Saturday.
University officials said they were able to withdraw the ban after identifying potential isolation areas on campus. They have said their original decision was a prudent step based on detailed guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Hong Kong, McQuade acknowledged that the ban had caused “confusion, anxiety, controversy and some misunderstanding.”
He said the policy change was possible because the school has had time to prepare if students carry the disease from their home countries.
SARS has killed more than 600 people, primarily in mainland China and Hong Kong. More than 7,800 people around the world have been sickened.
Berkeley’s ban went further than other U.S. universities, which generally have asked their own students and faculty not to travel to Asia, rather than banning students from the region.
Last week, school officials eased the ban so that 80 students from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong who had enrolled in core academic classes could come.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of the division of epidemiology at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told a Hong Kong audience that students will be told to watch out for signs of respiratory infections for the first 10 days after their arrival on campus. But, none will be required to undergo quarantine.