SINGAPORE: The National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) have suspended all student exchange programmes to South Korea after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases there.
This comes after South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced on Sunday that the country would raise its alert level on COVID-19 to the highest level of ‘grave’.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) also issued a public health travel advisory on Sunday, advising Singaporeans to avoid non-essential travel to the South Korean cities of Daegu and Cheongdo, which have been designated as "special care zones" by South Korea.
South Korea confirmed 70 more COVID-19 cases on Monday afternoon, bringing its total number of cases to 833, the largest national total outside China. Two more people in South Korea died on Monday from the coronavirus, taking the death toll to seven.
Responding to CNA queries, an NUS spokesperson said that the university has decided to suspend student exchange programmes to South Korea until further notice, in response to the MOH travel advisory.
“The university is reaching out to affected students to provide assistance and support. Arrangements will also be made for students who are currently in the Republic of Korea to return to Singapore as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.
NUS is exploring alternative arrangements for the affected students, such as helping them obtain local internships.
“Students may also apply for Leave of Absence for this semester and the university will assist them to secure modules in the summer semester without incurring additional tuition fees,” the spokesperson said, adding that the university may implement further preventive measures if necessary.
SMU said all student exchange arrangements to South Korea have been suspended with immediate effect.
An SMU spokesperson said: “We will continue to work with our partner universities in South Korea, take guidance from official advisories and where necessary, make alternative arrangements for our affected students, taking into account their preferences and requirements.
“The safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff remain the university’s top priority, and we will provide the best possible support to them.”
An NTU spokesperson told CNA that several of its South Korean partner universities informed NTU that they would like to defer all incoming exchanges due to the COVID-19 outbreak there.
“NTU will similarly work with our partner universities in South Korea to defer all outbound student exchanges until further notice,” said the spokesperson, adding that the university is also looking into insurance claims and will advise students on claims where applicable.
“The various schools at NTU are assisting affected students, with alternative options including, but not limited to, pursuing credit-bearing internships or taking up courses during the May to August vacation period. These students may apply for overseas exchanges or internships in the next or subsequent semesters,” the spokesperson added.
NTU undergraduate Dylan Ting was due to fly to South Korea with three friends last Sunday night for his semester exchange at Sogang University in Seoul.
Just before they were about to enter the departure area at about 10pm, one of his friends saw an email from the university notifying students who were registered for South Korea exchange programmes about the suspension.
“We had to tell the airline to pull out our baggage,” said the 23-year-old. “Basically NTU said if you’re not there yet, don’t go, and if you’re already there, just fly back as soon as possible. I think that was their priority, to get us (to stay) safely in Singapore.”
He added that he was “a little bit unsure” about what would happen next as the semester in Singapore had already begun and that he was worried that he might have to take a Leave of Absence (LOA) this semester.
“We’ll have to overload (on modules) to graduate in four years if we take (an LOA this semester), either that or take an extra semester to graduate,” said Mr Ting.
“I think on the school’s part ... NTU told us very fast because the alert went up just a few hours before that. So I think they made their decision and tried their best to email us as (quickly) as possible. We’re still a little bit unsure about what could happen to us because maybe that decision has not been made yet.”