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Coronavirus pandemic | Now you may be allowed to defer date of journey beyond April 30 in your travel insurance

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Amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the insurance regulator has asked companies to provide an option to defer date of journey in travel insurance products.

This will be for policies that were/are valid between March 22 and April 30.

Due to COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown in India and across the globe, several travellers have been either stranded in another location domestically or abroad.

Travel restrictions will be applicable till April 14 for the time being. There was a fear among individuals with travel insurance products about the validity of the product due to cancellation of flights.

Policy holders can call up their insurers to check if this facility has been provided.

The total number of reported COVID-19 cases in India stands at 1,251. The Union Health Ministry has said that 102 patients have recovered so far, but 32 have died.

This decision by Insurance Regulatory and Development and Authority of India (IRDAI) was among a slew of other measures announced to help tide over the COVID-19 situation.

In the first week of March, IRDAI had asked insurance companies to expeditiously settle all COVID-19 claims and also handle quarantine-related claims on the basis of the terms and conditions of the health insurance policy.

Later, on March 23, IRDAI had also asked life insurers to give an additional grace period of 30 days for payment of renewal premiums.

Insurers were also asked to design products specifically for covering COVID-19 that would cover the costs of the treatment. Typically, if an individual is admitted to a state-run hospital the government bears the treatment costs. However, in the case of private hospitals and home quarantine-related charges, the costs are to be borne by the affected persons.

As far as policyholders are concerned, IRDAI said that insurers have to display on their website a dedicated help line number for policyholders and another help line number for other stakeholders including agents and intermediaries.

Though the normal response time for policyholder complaint redressal is 15 days, due to the prevailing lockdown situation, an additional 21 days will be allowed. This is for all complaints which are received on or after March 15, 2020 and up to April 30, 2020. However, this additional response time is not applicable to complaints pertaining to COVID-19 for which the extant timelines will continue to apply.

For insurers

IRDAI has said that while insurance has been exempted from the lockdown, companies should advise their offices to function with only absolutely necessary staff including those involved in claims settlement, authorisation for hospitalisation, renewal of insurance policies and such other activities.

“To the extent possible, work from home may be adopted by facilitating the same for the staff of insurers, intermediaries and agents,” said IRDAI.

Further, the regulator said companies have to put in place a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) which inter alia deals with processes, transactions, reporting and customer services to be handled in a seamless manner to take care of the present situation.

Insurers also have to set up a crisis management committee to evaluate all risks including strategic, operational, insurance, liquidity, credit, reputational, market, foreign exchange, reduction in new business, reduction in renewal business, asset liability mismatch, reduction in yield, capital erosion, and claims in the wake of present situation, and shall devise necessary mitigation measures.

Any severe impact on the operations or capital requirements or solvency margin has to be promptly communicated to IRDAI.

Since remote working will have to be facilitated, IRDAI said that it is possible that there could be an increase in the number of cyber-attacks on personal computer networks. Therefore, insurers need to take precautionary measures to address such cyber risks and mitigate them as soon as they are identified.

For new policy sales, IRDAI said that wherever email addresses of policyholders are available, policy documents will have to be issued through email.

The US weighs the grim math of death vs the economy

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Hollstadt Consulting CEO Molly Jungbauer has had to let go 30 of the 150 employees at her St. Paul, Minnesota firm to weather the drop in revenue from travel industry clients because of the coronavirus.

She's worried about her daughter, who lives in New York and has the disease. But she also worries that shutting the economy with open-ended stay-at-home orders could have an "irreversible" impact.

So she was relieved to hear Minnesota Governor Tim Walz's plan last week: clamp down on commerce and social activity now but then reopen the state for business by May 4. "It is nice to know that we have somewhat of an end date," she said.

Coronavirus shut-downs could lop 25 percent or more from US output, some economists forecast, throwing tens of millions of Americans out of work.  The US government and the Fed are mounting what could be a $6 trillion economic rescue.

And elected US politicians entrusted with public welfare are making calculations centered around the question: How many possibly preventable deaths are acceptable, as weighed against millions of jobs lost and trillions of dollars of economic output foregone?

Declaring the cure can't be worse than the disease, President Donald Trump has said that by April 12, he wanted churches all over the country to be "packed" with Easter celebrants. On Sunday, Trump backed away from that goal by extending social distancing guidelines to April 30.

More testing is critical, Trump advisor Stephen Moore told Reuters.

"Once you have testing you can open up the economy," he said. South Korea has tested a much bigger portion of its citizens than the United States has, allowing it to reduce infections and without stopping its economy. The US has ramped up its capacity in recent weeks, though some states are making bigger inroads than others.

Also key, Moore said, is understanding if new cases are rising as fast in the Midwest as on the coasts, and if more people can, like the hundreds of thousands of workers at FedEx still on the job, practice social distancing and still work.

"You kind of have to look at the businesses that are running," Moore said.

US state and local officials are doing their own calculus.

"We will not put a dollar figure on human lives," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. Almost half of the 130,000 US cases to date have appeared in New York, where some hospitals are overwhelmed with critically-ill patients.

Other governors in states with fewer cases are forging ahead with plans to try to limit both deaths and economic damage.

On Wednesday, Walz - who is self-quarantining after possible exposure - told Minnesotans that models project an eventual 2.4 million infections statewide.

If allowed to spread unchecked now, he said, as many as 74,000 Minnesotans could die because too few hospital beds and ventilators means patients won't get the medical care they need.

Economically, he said, the state can't afford to stay shut for a year or more until a vaccine is developed, an approach an influential Imperial College study recommends.

So Walz is imposing a strict "stay-at-home" order for two weeks and a more relaxed version for a few weeks after that, to give hospitals the time to prepare. Epidemiologists refer to this as "flattening the curve."

"I don't believe it's prudent to try to shelter in place until a vaccine is there," Walz said. "I'm asking you to buckle it up for a few more weeks here."

Even that will be painful: state officials estimate 28 percent of Minnesotans will be temporarily jobless for the next two weeks, with about 40 percent of those without any form of paid leave.

Once businesses and schools reopen, Walz hopes to use testing and targeted quarantines to keep new cases in check.

But he acknowledged there will be more deaths. "It's agonizing and I find it nearly unacceptable," he said. "My job is to reduce it down."

Coronavirus is about ten times deadlier than the flu, killing one of every hundred that get it, according to Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert. Given Walz's estimate of 2.4 million Minnesota residents infected, that means 24,000 dead.

So far there have been 503 cases and nine deaths in the state.


For a growing chorus of economists, the notion of weighing deaths against the economy is fundamentally flawed.

"One can do those types of quite gruesome calculations" said MIT economist Emil Verner. But evidence suggests "that in some sense, that's a false tradeoff," he said.

Verner last week co-authored a paper about the response to the 1918 flu epidemic and found that cities that restricted public gatherings sooner and longer had fewer deaths - and ultimately emerged from the pandemic with stronger economic growth.

"Saving lives and saving the economy are not in conflict right now," former Fed Chair Janet Yellen and more than 30 other current and former policymakers and economists wrote in a joint statement published earlier this week.

Paul Winfree, director of economic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees that easing restrictions too early could be damaging. But, he said, allowing the downturn to deepen into a depression would ultimately negatively impact health.

"The White House is starting to weigh the long and short term health consequences of coronavirus and mitigation...(and) they are hearing from the business community that there needs to be some level of certainty," he said.

The question remains if the American consumer, who is responsible for about two-thirds of US GDP, will be confident enough to go to crowded malls and cozy restaurants if the death toll is still rising.

UCLA professor Andy Atkeson says that though lifting lockdowns may seem like an economic shot in the arm, doing so could let infections shoot right back up again.

Americans would lock themselves down, afraid to go out to shop and work given the illness and death around them," Atkeson wrote.

From rate cuts to liquidity measures, RBI goes all guns blazing: 8 key takeaways from RBI policy

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The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a huge 75 basis points rate cut on March 27, bringing it to 4.40 percent from 5.15 percent.

Announcing a series of measures to ensure liquidity and stability in the country’s financial system as India battles coronavirus, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Shaktikanta Das said the monetary policy committee (MPC) met almost a week ahead of the scheduled date.

“This decision of the rate cut and the advancement of MPC have been warranted by the disruptive force of COVID-19. It is intended to mitigate the negative effects of the virus, to revive growth and to preserve financial stability,” Das said.

The RBI slashed repo rate by 75 bps to 4.40 percent while the reverse repo rate, which sets the floor of the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF), was reduced by 90 bps to 4 percent.

“The purpose of this measure, relating to reverse repo is to make it relatively unattractive for the banks to passively deposit the funds with the RBI and instead to use these funds to lending to the productive sectors of the economy,” Das said.

Growth outlook uncertain

The RBI said that the coronavirus pandemic will affect the growth of most sectors.

“Apart from continuing resilience from agriculture and allied sectors, most sectors of the economy will be adversely impacted by COVID-19, depending upon its intensity, spread and duration,” Das said, referring to the illness caused by the virus.

“Projections of growth and inflation would be heavily contingent on the intensity, spread and duration of COVID-19. The MPC has refrained from giving out specific growth and inflation numbers because the situation is changing and the outlook is uncertain.”

There is a rising probability that a large part of the global economy will slip into recession. Turning to growth in India, the 5 percent growth expectation is at risk, the RBI governor said.

Liquidity measures

“Large selloffs in markets have intensified redemption pressure. The RBI will conduct auctions of long-term repo operation (LTRO) of up to three-year tenure of appropriate sizes for a total amount up to Rs 1 lakh crore at a floating rate linked to the policy repo rate,” Das said.

The RBI governor emphasised that the liquidity availed by banks under the scheme has to be deployed in investment-grade corporate bonds, commercial papers and non-convertible debentures, over and above, the outstanding level of those investments in these bonds, as on March 25, 2020.

Eligible instruments comprise both primary market issuances as well as secondary market purchases, including from MFs and NBFCs.

“Investments made by the banks under this facility will be classified as held-to-maturity (HTM) even in excess of 25 percent of the total investment permitted to be included in HTM portfolio,” Das said.

Exposure under this facility will also be not recognised under the large-exposure framework.

The first auction of Rs 25,000 crore, under this arrangement, will be conducted later on March 27.

CRR reduced by 100 bps

The RBI said that despite ample liquidity in the system, its distribution was highly asymmetrical.

“To help banks tide over the disruption caused by COVID-19, it has been decided to reduce the cash-reserve-ratio (CRR) of all banks by 100 bps to 3 percent of net demand and time liabilities (NDTL) with effect from March 28 for a period of one year,” Das said.

This reduction would release primary liquidity of about Rs 1.37 lakh crore uniformly across the banking system in proportion to liabilities of the constituents rather than in relation to their holding of excess SLR.

The RBI also reduced the minimum daily CRR balance from 90 percent to 80 percent, effective March 28. This is a one-time dispensation available up to June 26, 2020.

The RBI increased the accommodation under the marginal standing facility (MSF) from 2 percent of the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) to 3 percent with immediate effect. This measure will be applicable up to June 30, 2020 and it should provide comfort to the banking system by allowing it to avail an additional Rs 1.37 lakh crore of liquidity under the LAF window.

These measures will inject a liquidity of 3.74 lakh crore in the system.

Widening monetary policy rate corridor

The  RBI also decided to widen the monetary policy rate corridor.

"In view of persistent excess liquidity, it has been decided to widen the existing policy rate corridor from 50 bps to 65 bps. Under the new corridor, the reverse repo rate under the LAF would be 40 bps lower than the policy repo rate against the existing 25 bps. The marginal standing facility rate would continue to be 25 bps above the policy rates,” Das said.

Moratorium on term loans

All lending institutions have been permitted a three-month moratorium on payments of instalments of all term loans outstanding as of March 1, 2020.

Deferment of interest on working capital facilities

Lending institutions can defer by three months payment of interest outstanding as on March 1 on working capital facilities sanctioned in the form of cash-credit and overdraft and such. The accumulated interest for the period will be paid at the end of the deferment period.

The moratorium on term loans and the deferment of interest on working capital will not result in asset classification downgrade, the RBI governor said.

Easing of working capital financing

In respect of working capital facilities sanctioned in the form of cash credit, overdraft, lending institutions are allowed to recalculate drawing power by reducing margins or by reassessing the working capital cycle for borrowers.

More to come?

The RBI governor said the central bank was closely monitoring the situation and will step in whenever required.

“Let me assure you that the RBI is at work in mission mode. We have been monitoring the evolving financial market and the macroeconomic conditions and calibrating its operations to meet any need for additional liquidity support as well as to take other measures if warranted,” said the RBI governor.

First step in right direction: Rahul Gandhi on Centre's financial package

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi welcomed the financial package announced by the Centre on Thursday, saying it was the first step in the right direction.

The comments come after the government unveiled a Rs 1.70-lakh-crore economic package involving free food grain and cooking gas to the poor for the next three months, one-time doles to women and poor senior citizens, higher wages to workers and measures to boost liquidity of employees, as it looked to contain the impact of unprecedented nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"The Govt announcement today of a financial assistance package, is the first step in the right direction," Gandhi tweeted.

"India owes a debt to its farmers, daily wage earners, labourers, women & the elderly who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing lockdown."

Coronavirus impact | Moody’s Analytics cautions about millions of job losses in coming weeks

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Things will get worse, indicates the latest report by Moody’s Analytics on the economic shock of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Millions of job losses are likely in the coming weeks, particularly for households that live paycheque to paycheque,” Moody's Analytics' Chief Economist Mark Zandi said.

“COVID-19 has created a worldwide economic tsunami. The global economy is engulfed in a serious downturn. The virus has caused significant parts of the Asian and now European and US economies to all but shut down. More financial pain is quickly coming as layoffs mount, businesses curtail investment, and retirement nest eggs evaporate,” he added.

In January Moody’s Analytics expected global real gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 2.6 percent in 2020, which they now expect to fall by 0.4 percent. For China, in particular, GDP decline is expected by 27 percent at an annualised rate in Q1.

On the jobs front, businesses in the United States have laid-off workers and initial claims for unemployment insurance spiked to 280,000 in the second week of March compared to 210,000 in the week prior. US claims of 240,000 per week are consistent with no job growth, it noted.

“Central banks have responded aggressively but are running out of room to maneuver as interest rates hit the zero lower bound. The onus is now on governments to quickly provide substantial financial support to hard-pressed households and businesses. How much economic damage COVID-19 ultimately does will depend on the trajectory of the virus—and how governments respond,” Zandi added.

A massive and mounting monetary and fiscal policy response will limit the economic damage in the US compared with much of the rest of the world, and Moody’s Analytics expects US lawmakers to provide $1.65 trillion in discretionary fiscal stimulus.

The Bank of England recently low­ered rates to the zero lower bound and the European Central Bank has maintained neg­ative rates since the crisis. Germany and the UK are implementing large fiscal stimulus packages, but the rest of Europe has little fiscal space to respond.

“Euro zone real GDP is expected to decline by nearly 3 percent in 2020,” it said, adding that emerging economies will be hammered given the collapse in oil and other commodity prices.

“Our baseline outlook for the global economy is increasingly pessimistic. Still, given how quickly events are moving and the high degree of uncertainty around the virus’ path, it may not be pessimistic enough,” Zandi added.

The report identifies three ‘critical unknowns’ that are crucial to understand and respond to the problem — the trajectory of the virus, the policy response, and what other problems may develop due to the extraordinary pressure on the economy and financial system.

“Our baseline outlook also depends on credit markets functioning reasonably well, albeit with significant support from the Federal Reserve. Liquidity in credit markets has become increasingly impaired, including the repo and commercial paper markets. If liquidity dries up, and short-term funding markets effectively close to large corporates that issue short-term debt and financial institutions that raise funds necessary for their own lending, the impact on the economy will be severe and immediate,” he added.

The high level of corporate debt is another threat, Zandi noted, adding that there are many large multinationals with strong balance sheets and little debt, but there are also many highly leveraged companies that will likely face a Hobson’s choice: make their debt payments in a timely way or cut payrolls and investment.

“Either way the economy will suffer. We assume these financial fault lines are not severe or persistent enough to materially weaken the economy. However, this is an increasingly tough assumption to make,” he stated.

As oil prices drop, India fills its strategic petroleum reserves: Report

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As crude oil prices hit fresh lows, India is building its strategic petroleum reserves of 5.33 million metric tons (MMT).

Around half of this capacity is full, a source told the paper. The total capacity is expected to meet the country’s requirements for about 9.5 days. However, with the coronavirus outbreak restricting the movement of men and material, the stock could last much longer. This stock will be in addition to the 64.5 days stock that domestic refiners typically maintain.

India recently purchased crude oil worth Rs 690 crore, an official told Hindustan Times.

“Average price of the contracted quantity of crude is around $30 per barrel,” another official told the publication. This is much lower than India’s average crude oil purchase price of $69.88 per barrel in 2018-19.

The report added that the government approved the construction of facilities at Chandikhol in Odisha (4 MMT) and Padur in Karnataka (2.5 MMT), which will provide additional crude oil storage for 11.57 days.

The government might also purchase oil from Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, the report added.

“Talks are on with Saudi Arabia and we are awaiting a final nod from Riyadh,” the second official said.

India, which imports over 80 percent of its oil requirement, is trying to boost its capacity as it prepares to keep vehicles running during the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak.

Moneycontrol could not independently verify the story.

Coronavirus pandemic | BofA cuts March quarter growth forecast to 4%

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Wall Street brokerage Bank of America Securities has cut its March quarter growth forecast by 30 bps to 4 per cent, amid coronavirus pandemic-driven shutdowns and expects a cut in key benchmark rates on or before the April 3 monetary policy review. The brokerage expects the pandemic-driven lockdowns to run through mid-April, crippling economic activities across the value-chain.

The agency also pegged down FY20 growth forecast to 4.7 per cent and FY21 to 5.1 per cent, respectively, assuming a 2.2 per cent global growth.

But if the global economy falls into a recession, the domestic economy is likely to fall further to 4.4 per cent in FY21, it warned.

The brokerage has also lowered its forecast for the June quarter (first quarter of 2020-21) by a sharper 80 bps to 4 per cent citing the pandemic impact on economic activities even as the government is taking measures to contain the spread of the deadly virus that has killed close to 8,000 people globally.

Back home, the country has so far been comparatively secure but the government and health authorities are expecting an implosion of the pandemic in the country over the next week.

The pandemic has already taken the lives of three people in the country and left hundreds in home and hospital quarantines.

“We cut our real growth forecast by 30 bps to 4 per cent for the March quarter and by 80 bps to 4 per cent in the June quarter on rising Covid-19-related shutdowns,” BofA Securities said in a note on Wednesday.

Its India economists Indranil Sen Gupta and Aastha Gudwani said their India Activity Indicator continues to point to a long bottom.

While growth has improved to 4.3 per cent in January from 3.5 per cent in December 2019, it is still below the 4.4 per cent printed in October-November.

Four of the seven components have improved in January from December, they said and warned that "although we had called that the worst is over after the November dataprints, the Covid-19-related shutdowns will likely pull down activity further".

Expecting an inter-MPC meeting rate cut of 25 bps before or at the scheduled April 3 review, they forecast two more repo cuts of 25 bps each in June and October, and said this is needed as high real lending rate is exerting a drag on growth.

The brokerage also blamed the rising real lending rates as the main villain delaying the fragile recovery.

On the rate cuts, they expect RBI to cut rates by 25 bps before/on April 3 as the US Fed has done so by a whopping 150 bps. The RBI will likely cut again in June with inflation set to fall to its 2-6 per cent mandate and the March quarter growth coming down to 4 per cent.

An October rate cut is likely as base effects and weak demand is expected to drag inflation down to 2.5 per cent in the first half of FY21, the note said.

Yes Bank crisis | Cabinet may consider draft restructuring scheme on March 13

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The Cabinet is likely to consider Yes Bank's draft restructuring scheme on March 13, CNBC-TV18 reported.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government expects the reconstruction plan to come into effect by April 3. She said the Reserve bank of India (RBI) would submit a report detailing the reasons that led to the failure of Yes Bank and the associated regulatory gaps.

Meanwhile, reports earlier on March 12 suggest that the central bank has tapped investors like Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, DMart owner Radhakishan Damani, and PremjiInvest to be a part of the rescue consortium for the Yes Bank.

The RBI's rescue plan for Yes Bank involves an initial capital infusion to prevent a relapse once the bank's month-long moratorium ends on April 3.

Troubled private sector lender Yes Bank's board was superseded by the RBI on March 5 and a moratorium was imposed for a 30-day period ending April 3.

The RBI capped withdrawals from the bank at Rs 50,000, with certain exemptions in case of unforeseen circumstances.

Fuel prices: Petrol sells at Rs 70.29 in Delhi, diesel at Rs 63.01

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Fuel prices on March 11 were left unchanged, after six successive days of rate cuts. This, even as oil prices slipped by over 22 percent on March 9 after the failure of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia on the subject of an output cut.

In the national capital, petrol and diesel are available at Rs 70.29 a litre and Rs 63.01 a litre respectively.

Meanwhile, a litre of petrol in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata costs Rs 75.99, Rs 73.02 and Rs 72.98 as on March 11. Diesel prices in these cities are at Rs 65.97, Rs 66.48 and Rs 65.34 respectively.

In Bengaluru and Gurugram, petrol prices stood at Rs 72.70 per litre and Rs 70.76 per litre respectively while a litre of diesel costs Rs 65.16 and Rs 62.69.

Fuel prices on March 11 were left unchanged, after six successive days of rate cuts. This, even as oil prices slipped by over 22 percent on March 9 after the failure of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia on the subject of an output cut.

In the national capital, petrol and diesel are available at Rs 70.29 a litre and Rs 63.01 a litre respectively.

Meanwhile, a litre of petrol in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata costs Rs 75.99, Rs 73.02 and Rs 72.98 as on March 11. Diesel prices in these cities are at Rs 65.97, Rs 66.48 and Rs 65.34 respectively.

In Bengaluru and Gurugram, petrol prices stood at Rs 72.70 per litre and Rs 70.76 per litre respectively while a litre of diesel costs Rs 65.16 and Rs 62.69.

Coronavirus outbreak: "What happens to my degree?" ask Indian students in affected nations

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Pradeep Rao (name changed) knows he is lucky. The second-year MBBS student at Hebei University in China was among the Indian students who returned home in January after the impact of the deadly coronavirus outbreak became public.

But now a month later, Rao is again worried. He doesn't know when he can go back to the university and complete his degree. With every passing day, he fears about a delay.  While he is back home in Vijaywada, there is no clarity on when he would be able to resume classes at the university.

"There was a holiday for the Chinese New Year which has now been extended. I did receive a message from the university that 'we will meet soon'. However, when is the question,” says Rao over the phone from his hometown Vijaywada.

While several Indian students from China are in India since they were on a new year break, a few were left back since they were either finishing a course or had internships.

Since then the outbreak seems to have slowed down in China, and is now spreading fast in countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, for students there is little respite.

Considering that March/April is when one semester ends and students break for the summers, suspension of classes across affected regions is a matter of concern.

What happens to students in China?

As far as China is concerned, several Indian students are part of the quarantine facility in China. Those students who have returned to India are unclear about when the academic session will start. But the situation is not as grim as it looks.

Universities are fast catching on to the online education system to ensure that classes are continued, at least partially.

Rao told Moneycontrol that his university started offering online classes for certain modules from March 2 onwards.

Medical courses are the most popular in China. Almost 85 percent of the Indian students studying in China are enrolled into MBBS and allied programmes.

The most popular institutes in China among Indians are Hebei University, Shihezi University, Shanghai University and Qingdao University.

Classes have been suspended across universities in China till further notice from the government. A direct impact would be that the academic calendar would get stretched.

This is because for courses like MBBS, large portion of the course programme involves practical training. This cannot be replaced by distance education. Overseas education firms are of the view that semester-end breaks would also be cancelled or cut short to make up for lost time.

Moneycontrol sent an email to all the institutes mentioned above seeking clarity on the academic situation, but did not receive any response.

Adarsh Khandelwal, co-founder of Study Abroad consulting firm said that China has responded admirably to the coronavirus outbreak and attempted to contain the casualties and infections in every possible manner.

“The overseas students studying at universities have been sent home. Thereby, students presently studying there have been affected with a likely extension in the duration of completion of their study programs. Universities are exploring options to strengthen qualitative online teaching in an attempt to fulfill their commitment to the students,” he added.

Sarvanan Krishnan, another Indian student from Tamil Nadu studying microbiology in Hong Kong said that there is no communication from either the government or the institutes on who are the persons affected and for how long classes will be suspended.

"We interact with everyone from the librarian to the canteen supervisor to the head professor. Shouldn't there be clarity on if there any suspected carriers of the virus. Also, why not give a tentative deadline to help us understand when classes will resume," he added.

His college friend Avantika Bansal was lucky. She was part of an exchange-programme of a Singapore-based institute, in China and Italy. However, this was immediately cancelled when COVID-19 started to spread and Bansal was able to leave on time. This module that was missed due to cancellation of the exchange programme could be taken in some other country.

How will this impact China as an education destination?

Khandelwal said that China is a highly preferred and acclaimed education hub for international students. There will be an impact on the foreign student inflow into China ahead of the peak season of March/April when students typically choose their study destination abroad.

“The coronavirus outbreak is likely to have a deterrent effect, especially since the choice of destination for studying overseas is strongly impacted by concerns regarding safety of the students,” explained Khandelwal/

Among those who have applied, there seems to be some uncertainty. A Mumbai-based education consultant said that there are parents who want to withdraw applications sent to Chinese universities.

“We have asked individuals to wait till April before taking a decision to withdraw applications made for studying in China,” he added.

What about other countries?

Among the affected regions of COVID-19, Italy is another popular education destination for students. An estimated 4,500 Indians are studying across various programmes in Italy with programmes like design, architecture and fine arts among the most common fields of study.

Srividya Shankar who is pursuing an architecture course from a leading institute in Pavia, Italy received news that classes have been suspended due to a possible infection in the region.

However, she is now in a fix as Shankar is not sure whether to return to her hometown Chennai or stay back.

“We don’t know how long the suspension of lectures would continue. Flights to India from here (one-way) are upwards of Rs 28,000. I am not too sure what to do,” she said.

Other institutes like Sapienza University of Rome has suspended classes for one particular course. This was after a student’s father tested positive.

In an emailed response to Moneycontrol, the university said that it is implementing the protective measures issued by the Italian Health Authorities against the COVID-19. To date, it said that the competent authorities have not suspended services and educational activities.

However from March 2, 2020, until further notice from competent authorities, Regione Lazio Health Department has suspended, as a precautionary measure, all the lectures/lessons of the Informatics Bachelors Programme (year one).

“One of the students enrolled in the course belongs to the family who is currently under observation at the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome. The educational activities will continue at a later time following specific procedures that will be communicated to the students. The course’s lecture room has been already sanitized,” said the university in a response.

Exchange programmes are either being deferred or cancelled. The National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) have suspended student exchanges to universities in Italy, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases there.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak comes right ahead of the new academic year, a drastic change is expected in the way study destinations are chosen. COVID-19 nations are expected to fall out of the top 10 list of preferred countries.

Among other countries, Japan, Iran and South Korea are popular destinations for student exchange programmes of South-East and European institutes. Due to the outbreak of the disease, these programmes have been deferred since this is considered 'non-essential travel'.

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