Coronavirus: Steady stream of Singaporeans making their way back home

Passengers from a New York flight arriving at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on Thursday. Among the Singaporeans returning from overseas are students whose parents were worried about their safety and wanted them to come back as soon as possible. For some,
Passengers from a New York flight arriving at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on Thursday. Among the Singaporeans returning from overseas are students whose parents were worried about their safety and wanted them to come back as soon as possible. For some, lessons are continuing online.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Freelance tour guide C.H. Chow knew he had to take his charges back to Singapore as soon as he discovered that Finland, where he was just two days ago, would be shutting its borders.

"We were having dinner on Tuesday when we got news that Finland was closing itself off to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and my group of eight tourists and I had to cut short our trip and scramble to get flights back home," the 60-year-old said at Changi's Terminal 1 upon his return on Thursday.

He and his group had to race against time. On Tuesday, they were still in Rovaniemi, the official home town of Santa Claus, and were due to fly out of Finland on Friday.

They eventually caught a domestic flight to Helsinki, where Finnair staff put them on the last flight out of Finland before April.

Mr Chow said: "I wouldn't stay in Finland that long. It's cold and things are expensive."

The Sunday Times also spoke to several Singaporeans studying overseas who returned to the country on Thursday either because they feel safer here or because their parents were fearful for their safety.

Many had to make last-minute bookings, but said their flights had been half-empty.

The students intend to go back to finish their studies once the threat of the coronavirus dies down.

Mr Yeo Ee Jin, 24, and Ms Tsai, 20, arriving on a Singapore Airlines flight from Adelaide, said they did not encounter trouble booking their flight on Wednesday.

"Our clinical practical classes were cancelled because they were held in hospitals. So with the lectures going online, we decided to come home," said Ms Tsai, who declined to give her full name. She said her parents were "very worried" and told her to come back to Singapore as soon as possible.

She is studying dentistry and Mr Yeo medicine, both at the University of Adelaide.

 
 
 
 

Ms Tina Ma, 20, a fashion design student returning from New York, had similarly worried parents who decided at 6pm on Tuesday that she would fly out at 10am the next day.

"It was a last-minute thing and I had to pack everything," she said, pointing to her sewing machine that travels with her.

She is glad to be back. "In the streets in New York, not many people were wearing a mask, or quarantining themselves like they were supposed to. That made me worried, because they seemed too chill."

Ms Jay Li, 20, whose computer science and mass communications classes at New York University are now online, was also booked on a flight to Singapore two days earlier than scheduled.

"I'm planning to stay at home because I don't want to be a transmitter. I don't want to give it to my grandparents, and my parents are also getting older," she said.

At Changi Airport, visible from the Pan-Island Expressway, a sea of empty passenger jets sporting Scoot and Singapore Airlines liveries sat idle on the parking apron - a stark reminder of how badly the coronavirus has impacted air travel.

There was only sparse traffic along the airport's usually busy main thoroughfare, Airport Boulevard.

Ms May Me, 38, who had disembarked from Flight SQ997 from Yangon, said she was supposed to be there for 10 days, visiting family, but had to cut it to just four days.

"Luckily, I managed to get my MOH approval letter very quickly, otherwise I wouldn't have made it back," the accounts executive said, referring to the letter the Ministry of Health requires Asean nationals to submit before travel that shows their health information.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'Steady stream of Singaporeans making their way back home'. Print Edition | Subscribe