Coronavirus: NUS students deliver meals to residential college mates on leave of absence in show of support

At the University Scholars Programme residential college Cinnamon College, a group of 18 undergraduates have taken up food delivery duties since Jan 27, 2020. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - Students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have started making daily food deliveries to their mates at student lodgings who have been placed on a 14-day leave of absence due to their recent travel to China.

The leave of absence - previously announced as part of measures to protect schools from the new coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province - is precautionary, while a quarantine order is much more stringent and has legal force, with severe penalties for non-compliance.

The university-led food delivery initiative was lauded by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong in his ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday (Feb 3).

"This is the Singapore Spirit which will enable us to prevail against the virus," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the spread of the coronavirus.

The Straits Times has asked the Ministry of Education (MOE) for the number of NUS students who are on leave of absence.

At the University Scholars Programme (USP) residential college, Cinnamon College, a group of 18 undergraduates have taken up food delivery duties since Jan 27.

NUS has four other residential colleges, seven student halls of residences and two student residences. It said similar delivery services have been activated elsewhere.

The 18 students are residential assistants in the college. On regular days, they help fellow students with residential matters and also facilitate gatherings to help students bond.

NUS said the residential assistants can opt out of making deliveries at any time.

Mr Joash Tan, 25, a Year 4 USP student, is one of the 18. He told ST in an interview on Monday that they have been taking turns to make the food deliveries at 9am, 1pm and 6pm, with two students activated per meal.

It takes each duo about 30 minutes to complete the deliveries to the students on leave of absence in the college.

Each resident is already subscribed to a meal plan, which includes breakfast and dinner on weekdays, breakfast on Saturdays and dinner on Sundays.

Such meals are delivered every day to the affected students, while weekday lunches and other meals on weekends are also catered for, and paid for by the university, said USP director Kang Hway Chuan, who is also a college master in Cinnamon College.

In total, there are about 600 residents in the college, most of whom are from the USP. There are also some exchange students.

Associate Professor Kang said that safety precautions are taken, such as asking those on leave of absence to put on masks when receiving the meal deliveries in person.

The students making the deliveries also have a standard operating procedure, such as donning masks and gloves at all times, and ensuring that there is no physical contact.

Said Prof Kang: "The students on leave of absence are not as high risk (as those serving quarantine orders), so these are just precautions we're taking."

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Mr Michael Ang, 22, also one of the residential assistants, said they have also been delivering handwritten notes of support and concern from residents to those on leave of absence.

There is also a Telegram chat group consisting of the residential assistants, residential fellows (professors) and students on leave of absence.

"Because the students don't get much face-to-face interaction, we use the chat group to check in on them and drop them messages to let them know their meals have been delivered," said Mr Ang, a Year 2 USP student.

Some of those who are on leave of absence have also been asking their friends to help "stream" lectures via video call, so they can keep up with the classes.

The leave of absence was initially announced for those in MOE kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, special education schools, junior colleges, polytechnics, Millennia Institute and the Institute of Technical Education.

The six autonomous universities have also agreed to implement the same protocol.

In a frequently asked questions post updated on Monday, the Education Ministry said schools are supporting students on leave of absence in various ways that are not necessarily limited to e-learning or learning with computers.

For example, schools may inform their students of specific pieces of homework or readings from their textbooks. For subjects like art, hard copy packages may also be dropped off at the student's home by the school.

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Schools may also ask students to go through online materials in the Singapore Student Learning Space, through which teachers will be able to monitor the students' learning progress.

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