Singaporean undergraduates return from London with Covid-19, relieved to be back

Mr Tyler Lee is a Singaporean student at Imperial College London. He tested positive for Covid-19 after returning to Singapore on March 21.

SINGAPORE - Undergraduates Bryan Hoon and Tyler Lee, who were studying at the Imperial College in London, had thought that the Covid-19 situation was under control in Britain at the start of March.

Then, the main focus of the two, who are housemates, was to complete their final-year project and graduate from university. Mr Hoon was also looking towards a ski trip in Finland this month.

But the situation flipped on its head in a matter of days around mid-March. With the Covid-19 outbreak worsening in Britain, both Mr Hoon, 24, and Mr Lee, 26, had to rush to book return flights to Singapore.

After their return about two weeks ago, the duo - along with their other housemate - were found to be infected with the Covid-19 disease.

They are among dozens of returning students here who caught the Covid-19 virus. As of Friday night (April 3), the number of infections had hit 1,114, with five deaths in Singapore.

Mr Hoon and Mr Lee are now hospitalised in separate wards at Gleneagles Hospital, where they are waiting to fully recover from the coronavirus.

They were previously hospitalised at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), but their conditions were deemed stable enough for them to be moved out to recuperate.

On the situation in London, Mr Hoon said things still seemed normal in the week starting March 9.

"We were not even thinking about flying back the week before we booked our return tickets," he said.

"But suddenly, the number of cases were doubling daily... things escalated very quickly."

On March 13, their university told students that there were several confirmed cases in the school, and that the school would switch to remote learning.

The duo's community of about 15 Singaporean friends started staying home for most of the days as situation worsened.

 
 

"But whenever we came together, we were talking about the situation, who's flying off, how much the tickets were selling, are they going to cancel flights, whether London was going to get locked down," said Mr Hoon. "There were a lot of uncertainties."

The worsening situation was compounded by panic buying as well in Britain. Queues would form even before opening hours.

Mr Lee said: "Things were very chaotic.

"We couldn't get anything from the supermarkets. All the shelves were empty, there were no fresh produce, no biscuits, no toilet paper.

"The only things left untouched were things such as potato chips and alcohol."

Almost all of their friends subsequently decided to return to Singapore.

Mr Hoon said: "Most of us wanted to go back because of safety issues. We heard that people were only treated in the UK if they were elderly or had chronic conditions, and it's pretty scary that you can't get medical attention if you are sick.

"In contrast, everybody was looking up to Singapore in this situation."

He managed to book a Singapore Airlines flight to return on March 20, while Mr Lee secured a flight to return the next day.

Both did not feel anything amiss then, although Mr Hoon had a dry throat that was resolved by drinking water, and Mr Lee had a sore throat that he thought came from eating spicy food.

Mr Hoon's throat felt better by the time he reached Singapore.

 
 

After he touched down in Singapore, he passed immigration without issue and went home.

"I felt well, but the next day when I took my temperature I realised I had a fever of 38 deg C even though I had no chills," he said.

"My throat also got more sore."

He visited a clinic at Nex shopping mall, which referred him to NCID. His infection was subsequently confirmed there.

Meanwhile, Mr Lee reported his sore throat to officials at the airport after he touched down, and was sent directly to NCID. He was confirmed to have the virus as well shortly afterwards.

They are unsure as to where they caught the virus - with school and a visit to the Chinatown in London listed as possible causes.

The pair developed mild symptoms of cough and slight fever, but did not feel significantly unwell.

Mr Hoon said: "The medicine I was taking was just over-the-counter kind of medicine.

"I was more worried about whether I had spread the virus to my family back home actually."

Both he and Mr Lee were subsequently moved to Gleneagles last week to recuperate.

Mr Hoon said he made the trip in a minibus with seven other patients, with the driver donning protective gear.

 
 

"From what I am told, I met the criteria for having no fever for a certain number of hours, and was considered to be stable and low risk, so there wasn't a need for acute hospital care," he said.

The pair are mostly well now. They are passing their time by watching shows on Netflix, reading books and also working on their remaining assignments for school.

Both are now waiting to be tested negative for Covid-19 in two tests 24 hours apart so that they can get discharged.

"My short-term plan now is just to take a walk outside," said Mr Hoon.

The situation has also left them thankful for the healthcare system here.

Mr Hoon said it was bittersweet to be back home on such terms. While they had bade a hasty farewell to their home for the past few years, he was glad to be back and taken care of now in a safe environment.

Echoing Mr Hoon's sentiments, Mr Lee added: "I think people here don't actually realise how fortunate they are to be so well taken care of.

"I am actually really, really thankful to be back."