Coronavirus: Singapore students in Britain to get help with flights back

People at Heathrow airport in London on March 14, 2020. Britain is one of the most popular destinations for Singaporeans pursuing higher education. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans and permanent residents studying in Britain who are trying to secure flights back to Singapore can register with the Government for tickets, amid the global surge in Covid-19 cases.

In a message sent to Singapore societies in universities in Britain, the Singapore High Commission in London said it is working with Singapore Airlines (SIA) to facilitate students' travel in March.

It follows the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' announcement on Tuesday that those studying overseas should consider returning to Singapore soon, and as flights are cancelled by airlines struggling with the fall in travel demand.

The agencies said students are being offered the option first, as the rest of the Singaporean community based overseas are more rooted and have other support.

"Your safety is of utmost importance and rest assured that the Singapore High Commission in London is looking into getting additional flights if there is high unmet demand, including for further arrangements in April," the message continued.

Citizens and permanent resident students can register their interest at and refer to the instructions on the page. SIA should contact them at least a day before their allocated flights, the message said.

Institutes of higher learning here earlier recalled students on overseas exchanges and internships. All official overseas placements have also been suspended until the end of July.

Those who wish to return urgently from Britain can proceed to Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 in London to standby for a flight on the day itself, although SIA cannot guarantee that they can be accommodated on a flight on the same day, the message added.

But these students should preferably not have already put in a request in the system, to prevent duplicate entries which could clog up the system.

In some situations, they may be rebooked on a different flight due to operational contingencies.

"We seek your understanding and cooperation to ensure the smooth operation of this system we have put in place, which we could fine-tune as necessary," the message said.

An SIA spokesman said: "SIA is supporting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in its efforts to bring Singaporeans back home during these challenging times."

Britain is one of the most popular destinations for Singaporeans pursuing higher education, with about 6,750 Singapore students there in the academic year 2018/2019, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

The country had initially adopted a strategy of building "herd immunity" in Britain, which seeks to allow the virus to spread naturally so the population can, in theory, better resist the virus in the long term.

Health experts condemned the approach as risky and callous, as it could lead to many deaths.

The move prompted Minister for National Development Lawerence Wong last Sunday to name the United Kingdom as one of the countries that has abandoned any measure to contain or restrain the virus when explaining Singapore's decision to impose a two-week self-isolation for travellers from the country.

But on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of all schools in the country until further notice as the death toll there rose to 104.

About 40 Tube stations in London have also been shut, in a seeming reversal of the government's initial strategy.

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