Students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have started making daily food deliveries to their university mates at student lodgings who have been placed on a 14-day leave of absence due to 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 - is precautionary, while a quarantine order is much more stringent and has legal force with severe penalties for non-compliance.
The universities' food delivery initiative was lauded by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong in his ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday.
"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 number of university students who are on leave of absence had not been released at press time.
At Cinnamon College, the University Scholars Programme (USP) residential college, a group of 18 undergraduates have taken up food delivery duties since Monday last week.
NUS has four other residential colleges, seven student halls of residences and two student residences. It said that similar delivery services have been activated elsewhere.
The 18 students are residential assistants in Cinnamon College. On regular days, they help fellow students with residential matters and 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 them. He told The Straits Times in an interview 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.
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 relevant safety precautions are taken, such as asking those on leave of absence to put on a mask when receiving meal deliveries in person.
Students making the deliveries have a standard operating procedure as well, such as donning masks and gloves at all times, and refraining from physical contact.
Prof Kang said: "The students on leave of absence are not as high risk (as those serving quarantine orders), so these are just precautions we are taking."
Mr Michael Ang, 22, who is also a residential assistant, said the team has also been delivering handwritten notes of support and concern from residents to those on leave of absence.
In addition, there is a Telegram chat group consisting of the residential assistants, residential fellows 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.
Yesterday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung visited NTU's government quarantine facility at Graduate Hall 1. He also went to Cinnamon College in NUS.
He also visited students on leave of absence, met student volunteers helping out on campus, and joined them in delivering welfare packs and food packs.
Mr Ong said of students on leave of absence: "They are healthy individuals who happened to have visited China in the last 14 days and fulfilling a social responsibility by isolating themselves as a precaution. They are part of our community, and we need to help and support them as best we can, instead of shunning them."
The leave of absence was initially announced for those in Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, special education schools, junior colleges, polytechnics, Millennia Institute and the Institute of Technical Education.
The six autonomous universities agreed to implement the same protocol.
This article has been edited for clarity.