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Simon Fraser, UVic, UNBC plan virtual start to university term as pandemic surges

Campus resources, including libraries, student housing and dining services will remain open
A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks down steps on the Simon Fraser University campus, as heavy snow falls in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, December 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Three more British Columbia universities are rejigging the start of their winter terms as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 swells cases of the virus across the province.

Simon Fraser University and the universities of Victoria and Northern B.C. have followed the University of British Columbia and announced plans to start the upcoming term with online instruction for most courses.

SFU and UVic says classes will begin Jan. 10 with two weeks of online classes, although labs, clinical and performance courses will continue in-person with safety protocols.

UNBC says the semester will begin as scheduled on Jan. 5, and all first classes of any course between Jan. 5 and Jan. 11 will be delivered online.

All three universities say campus resources, including libraries, student housing and dining services will remain open with current safety plans in place.

The University of B.C. said earlier this week that most of its classes will be offered online between Jan. 10 and 24.

Numerous other post-secondary institutions across the country have either delayed the start of their terms or announced virtual classes to launch the new year.

The B.C. universities are scaling back in-person classes despite a letter from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry sent to the province’s post-secondary facilities Wednesday.

The letter “strongly recommend(s) continuation of on-campus instruction,” saying educational settings, including large classrooms, have been found to be a low risk for transmission of all COVID-19 variants of concern.

But a statement from Simon Fraser University president Joy Johnson said SFU is “taking this short pause in order to offer clarity for our community at a time when many students have travelled away from campus.”

About 70 per cent classes at the University of Northern BC were held in-person during the fall term and many will remain in-person, the university said in its online statement. But it intends to tailor Henry’s advice to create a “solution for the winter semester that is right for UNBC.”

“We are targeting a modestly lower percentage of in-person classes for the winter semester to address this latest development in the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the statement from university president Geoff Payne.

Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops said Thursday it would follow Henry’s recommendation and hold in-person classes to start the year. Although it said staff and students should be prepared for the possibility of virtual or hybrid learning if the situation changes.

British Columbia reported a record 2,046 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday.

The province said 975 cases of the Omicron variant had been confirmed, with more than half in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

—The Canadian Press

RELATED: Omicron prompts University of British Columbia courses to go temporarily online