Three months after the coronavirus forced universities across the Arab region to shut their doors, campuses have started reopening with strict precautions, including obligatory face masks, social distancing in classrooms, and temperature checks at entrances.
Syria opened its universities June 1; a week later Tunisia did the same. They were followed by Lebanon.
But government and university officials stress that the openings remain tentative and could be reversed if the danger of infection increases. Palestine, for example, reopened its universities in mid-June and then closed them again one week later over fears the virus could spread in crowded campuses, after a rise in Covid-19 infections in several parts of the territory.
In Libya, after several postponements, a reopening of campuses was scheduled for June 27. But in the end, authorities put it off again. (As they have in the past, higher-education officials from the warring eastern and western halves of the country appear to be unofficially coordinating such decisions).
Ali Elgayar, a professor and head of quality assurance in the faculty of engineering at the University of Benghazi, says many faculty members and students are eager to return to their courses. But with the country in the grips of a slow-burning civil war, and Covid-19 not fully understood, “everybody is afraid to take a decision.”
Temperature Checks at the Gate
As has been the case at many other Arab universities that have reopened, students in Syria are required to enter through a single campus gate, or through one door in each building, where their temperature is checked with a non-contact sensor.
In the beginning, “it was a big mess,” says Ahmad Firas Hamadeh, a business management instructor at two private universities, Arab International University and Bilad Al-Sham University.
“There were long lines and people got sick from the sun,” says Hamadeh. But the temperature checks were “only enforced for the first two weeks.”