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All 2,500 undergrads at elite Swiss school ordered to quarantine

Hospitality-management school Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland
Swiss health authorities have ordered a quarantine for 2,500 students at the prestigious hospitality-management school Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne.
(Jean-Christophe Bott / Keystone)

Swiss health authorities have ordered a quarantine for 2,500 students at a prestigious hospitality-management school in the city of Lausanne after “significant outbreaks” of the coronavirus that are a suspected byproduct of off-campus partying.

Authorities in Switzerland’s Vaud canton, or region, said that all undergraduates at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, known as the Lausanne Hospitality Management University in English, have been ordered to quarantine both on and off campus because targeted closures were not possible.

The World Health Organization, national health authorities and others have cautioned that young people, who tend to have milder COVID-19 symptoms, have been a key driver of the continued spread of the coronavirus in recent weeks, particularly in Europe.

“Significant outbreaks of infection have appeared at several levels of training, making a more targeted closure impossible than that involving the 2,500 students affected,” the Vaud regional office said in a statement. “Until Sept. 28, the students must stay home. For some, that means not leaving their housing on the hospitality school site.”

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The school said an early investigation showed that “one or more parties was at the origin of these many outbreaks of infection,” and reiterated authorities’ previous call for a ”responsible attitude” among partygoers, who should wear masks, trace their contacts, stay alert for symptoms and maintain social distance.

Ines Blal, the university’s executive dean, said administrators had warned students against holding start-of-term parties, even off campus and outside the school’s jurisdiction. She said that a “disciplinary investigation” was underway and that the school had prepared for “worst-case scenarios” in recent months by putting courses online and rolling out distance-learning programs.

A coronavirus outbreak among vacationing youths in western France is crystallizing fears that the epidemic is flaring again in the country.

University spokesman Sherif Mamdouh said Thursday that the situation was “not ideal” but that the university had taken precautions in recent months. He said that 11 students had tested positive for the coronavirus; none required hospitalization.

Mamdouh said the quarantine affects 2,500 undergraduates. The university has a total student body of about 3,500, including people pursuing advanced degrees. He said only 67 of the undergraduates affected by the quarantine live on campus.

Switzerland is not alone. The latest government figures in neighboring France show that 22% of the country’s currently active coronavirus clusters emerged at schools or universities. The United States has also seen clusters linked to college students.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that while it is “unfair to just put it on the young people,” it’s also unsurprising that teenagers and young adults might assume they don’t need to worry about succumbing to the virus.

The city attorney’s office has said homeowners with a history of renting to partygoers could face criminal prosecution and six months in jail.

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“Perceptions do indicate that they don’t feel they are as at-risk as older groups,” Harris said, particularly in light of data showing younger people typically have less severe cases of COVID-19.

“The message they have heard is: You are out of jail, go out and play,” she said. “We don’t want to be the fun police, but we want people to have fun safely.”


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