Coronavirus pandemic

S'poreans at unis abroad make plans to come home after MFA advisory

Some have already returned over virus fears overseas, while others choose to stay put

University of Manchester student Joel Chan, 22, packing up as he prepares to fly back to Singapore today. He is among the thousands of students heading home after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Singapore students abroad to consider doing so am
University of Manchester student Joel Chan, 22, packing up as he prepares to fly back to Singapore today. He is among the thousands of students heading home after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Singapore students abroad to consider doing so amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The authorities are also working with Singapore Airlines to fly Singaporean students home from Britain with special ticket arrangements. PHOTO: ANASTASIA ANGELINA
University of Manchester student Joel Chan, 22, packing up as he prepares to fly back to Singapore today. He is among the thousands of students heading home after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Singapore students abroad to consider doing so am
Students moving their belongings from their dormitories at San Diego State University in California on Wednesday. The university had asked students to move out within 48 hours. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Singaporeans studying full time in universities overseas are making hurried plans to come home following a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) advisory on Tuesday encouraging them to consider returning home soon because of coronavirus concerns.

The Public Service Division has also urged all Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship holders to return to Singapore.

PSC has 275 overseas scholarship holders, the majority of whom have already returned to Singapore or are making plans to do so, a spokesman said.

"In making their decision, they are encouraged to prioritise their health, taking into account the local situation, government response and likely healthcare considerations should they fall sick while abroad," she said. "As for the academic commitments, PSC will work out the necessary arrangements with the scholarship holders, and will exercise flexibility on matters such as study duration."

PSC will also cover the travel costs of their return to Singapore.

The authorities are also working with Singapore Airlines to fly Singaporean students home from Britain with special ticket arrangements.

There are about 19,000 Singapore students in universities in the United States, Britain and Australia.

Some students have decided to return home.

New York University anthropology major Natalie Lim, 21, is planning to come back as soon as she can get a flight. Her university has also said that classes will be conducted online, and asked students to leave the campus.

"New York City has announced a shutdown of all restaurants, cafes, bars, gyms and all non-essential activities. The mayor asked all residents to brace (themselves) for a shelter-in-place (order) to be imposed," said the student.

"The city is a ghost town. The streets are empty because everyone is under self-quarantine. People are starting to get cabin fever staying in all the time - that is why I decided to go back."

However, some students want to stay put, for various reasons.

Ms Dini Dzulaikha Dzulkifli, 28, in her second and final year of a master's programme in social work at the University of Queensland in Australia, is due to start a compulsory attachment with a company in July in Queensland, which will put her on track to graduate in December.

"My parents are very concerned. But I think it is a bit of a waste for me to defer a semester. I figured I should just soldier on and get my degree."

She added that she is worried, but is taking measures to protect herself, such as showering immediately upon reaching home. "I wish that I was home now because I feel that the situation in Singapore is more under control than here," she said.

Parents said that it is better to be in Singapore during this crisis.

Project manager Jimmy Tan, 59, made arrangements for his son, a University College London student, to fly back to Singapore after the university announced plans for remote learning. They managed to get a plane ticket for £527 (S$890) last Friday, said Mr Tan, adding that the price shot up to £1,300 the next day. His son arrived home on Tuesday.

"We wanted him back in Singapore out of concern for whether he will be able to cope on his own if he falls sick or if there is a lockdown," said Mr Tan.

Academic Jasmine Sim's son arrived home on Sunday from Newark in New Jersey. Her son is a second-year economics and statistics student at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The PSC scholarship holder was travelling in Britain about a week ago when he received a note from his university telling all students to return home. He flew back to the US and immediately booked a direct flight back to Singapore.

He is now on a self-imposed 14-day quarantine at home, and Dr Sim, 52, leaves his meals outside his room.

Dr Sim said: "But we still try to eat together by video-calling him. He has been travelling and been through airports, so we want to be safe. He has no choice, and he understands why we are doing this."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2020, with the headline S'poreans at unis abroad make plans to come home after MFA advisory. Subscribe