As of February 29, France had seen more than 200 cases of COVID-19, which have been particularly concentrated in the regions of Oise in Hauts-de-France, Morbihan in Brittany and Haute-Savoie in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

“People started 2020 thinking it would be a bumper year”

The move is the latest blow the English language training sector in countries like the UK, Ireland and Malta, which have already seen numerous cancellations, particularly from China and Italy.

“People started 2020 thinking it would be a bumper year,” explained David O’Grady, CEO of Marketing English in Ireland, which is Ireland’s leading industry association and represents around 90% of its ELT schools.

We’d had a good few years, with a good amount of bookings in January and February, and good feedback from agents.

“Schools have resigned to taking a bit of a hit in March and April, but the worry is that it will continue into the summer and that some will fold,” O’Grady added.

He told The PIE that March is the second busiest time of the year and that a continuation in restrictions could have a huge knock-on effect if they last into the summer.

When Italy’s travel restrictions for student groups were announced earlier, O’Grady said one group of students had been en route to the airport before having to turn around.

For schools in both Ireland and the UK, dips in student numbers mean cash-strapped institutions may struggle to rent buildings and hire staff in the summer. It’s also had an effect on companies supporting schools.

“We’ve got families that are cautious about accommodating students, students who can’t travel even if they want to, and agents who depend on bookings for their livelihood,” Harsha Shivdasani, operations manager at accommodation provider Hosts International.

“We’ve had 30 to 40 [Italian] young learner groups cancel.”

While Shivdasani explained that the French school groups they have tend to be adults, who aren’t as affected, the number of available host families is decreasing.

But while those who The PIE spoke to agreed that the coronavirus is having a huge impact on the industry, groups remain divided about how justified precautionary measures are, with accusations of the situation being hyped up and over-exaggerated on one side, and not been prepared for well enough on the other.

“Coronavirus is a major and evolving issue for our members and for agents. We are supporting them with a dedicated webpage where we are posting advice and updates from the government, TIER [the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group], agent associations and more,” said a spokesperson for English UK.

We are also taking calls from members, attending group meetings about the issue, and giving access to a business support helpline.

“At present the situation is fast-moving and we believe agents and members are looking at flexible solutions for now. We have had many positive conversations with members and fruitful discussions with agent groups,” the spokesperson added.

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