Strong community support for those under leave of absence, quarantine
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung (left) and NUS Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua (right) distributing dinner to an LOA student on 3 February
The University is taking proactive steps to ensure the welfare of students and staff under leave of absence or quarantine due to the COVID-19 situation. Additional steps have also been taken to prevent virus transmission, ensuring the safety of the NUS community at large.
A cluster of four blocks at Prince George’s Park Residences (PGPR) has been set aside as a Government Quarantine Facility (GQF) for NUS international staff and students issued Quarantine Orders under the Infectious Diseases Act. As at 3 February, four students are serving quarantine orders issued by the Ministry of Health (MOH) at the GQF.
As part of the University’s precautionary measures, all staff and students returning from mainland China are mandated to serve a 14-day leave of absence (LOA). The LOA applies to staff and students who are well and do not display any symptoms.
Professors are providing support to students and minimise disruption to their studies, with special arrangements being made to ensure that assignments and teaching materials are available online.
There are several initiatives to maintain the morale and well-being of the students under the LOA.
The NUS E-Gaming Society is conducting a social e-gaming marathon from 5 February to 14 February, so that students who are on LOA at home or in their hostel rooms, can continue to be connected with the rest of the student community. Games will be held at 8pm, 10pm and 12 midnight once every three days within the period, for players to try their hands out at “League of Legends”, “Dota 2” and “Overwatch”.
While the society usually organises competitive gaming events — after all, their teams consistently do well at the annual Inter-Varsity Games Festival and StarLeague — the marathon has been tweaked for casual gameplay so everyone from a beginner to a pro can take part.
“I hope to be able to connect the socially isolated students (or professors) through online gaming, to help alleviate their loneliness and help them pass their isolation period faster and in the company of friends,” said Year 3 NUS Business student Sean Heng, President of the NUS E-Gaming Society.
“As an e-gaming club, we have the social responsibility to step up for this occasion since the primary medium for our activities is online.”
Individual residences have also swiftly organised initiatives. This includes the NUS University Scholars Programme (USP) residential college — Cinnamon College. The Residential College’s 18 Residential Assistants (RAs) have been working tirelessly since 27 January — the third day of the Lunar New Year — to deliver three meals a day to the students who are on LOA. While these RAs can opt out of the food delivery duties at any time, none have done so as they see this service as part of their responsibility.
“They will choose what they want to eat daily and we will pack it from the dining hall and send it to them,” shared Year 4 USP student Chow Kit Ying, one of the RAs at Cinnamon College.
“On the weekends, we will buy food from outside and send it to them.”
Special thoughtful gifts can make a difference. Flowers have been left at the doors of the LOA students and fellow residents have also written postcards to keep their spirits up, said fellow RA Arijit Joshi, a USP Year 2 student.
Overall, the aim is to help those under LOA to manage their loneliness during the period of isolation, noted RA and USP fourth-year student Maxine Tan. “Amid our classes and other responsibilities, we do our best to ensure that they are doing fine psychologically during the LOA.”
The students’ efforts were recognised by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who thanked them for their hard work and dedication during a visit to Cinnamon College on 3 February. He also took part in the food distribution to students on LOA the same evening.
In addition to students, members of the NUS community such as our cleaners have been doing their extra bit to keep everyone on campus safe and healthy.
Cleaners at the GQF at PGPR have taken on additional cleaning duties, and do so wrapped in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), shared the Dean of Students Associate Professor Leong Ching in her 3 February update to NUS students.
Every morning, the entire cleaning team spends 10 minutes discussing the tasks to be completed. They are reminded of the safety procedures and expectations to keep themselves and others safe.
Cleaners have undergone two sessions of training. The training included protocols such as the donning of PPE and methods of disinfecting the GQF rooms. Only cleaning agents approved by relevant authorities are used for sanitising and disinfecting.
These cleaners are from the existing pool of cleaners as they are already familiar with the room layout. The cleaning teams have added new sanitising tasks to their daily routines.
“Cleaners practise proper cleaning of contaminated objects and surfaces and also ensure proper waste disposal,” said Mr Sng Jin Soon, Director, Office of Housing Services.
The cleaners start from the end of the room furthest from the door, and start cleaning from there. Slowly, they make their way out to the door so that they will not miss any corner.
GQF at PGPR for those without symptoms
The PGPR GQF, along with other GQFs at the Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University, support the Singapore Government’s response plan for emergencies. GQFs are used to quarantine lower risk individuals who have not shown any symptoms.
Quarantine Orders issued by MOH have legal force, with severe penalties for noncompliance. Quarantined individuals are guarded by security staff round-the-clock and are not allowed to leave their rooms during the full quarantine period.
Care for quarantined individuals at the GQF includes provision of daily meals and essential items, which are delivered to the quarantined staff and students. The only people who are allowed in contact with them are trained staff such as cleaners and delivery persons for food and essential items.
If any quarantined individuals later show any symptoms of infection, they will be transferred immediately by special ambulance to designated hospitals for further evaluation.
Updates and further information
Singapore’s top infectious diseases experts share tips
NUS News gets tips on staying healthy from NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, who is the Programme Leader for the Infectious Diseases Programme at the School; as well as NUS Medicine Professor Paul Tambyah, who researches infectious diseases and emerging bacterial and viral diseases.
Q: How should we navigate this evolving situation?
Assoc Prof Hsu: People should keep themselves updated and informed. In Singapore, the Ministry of Health has been keeping people informed. NUS also has proper communications channels.
I would advise people not to panic. Life goes on as it is, despite a few of the restrictions that have been put in place.
Q: How can we continue to guard against the virus?
Assoc Prof Hsu: Be more mindful of personal hygiene practices such as hand washing, although it is not necessary for people who are healthy to wear masks. For those who do need to wear one, it is important that the mask is worn properly.
Prof Tambyah: People should see a doctor quickly if they feel sick, especially if they have been in contact with someone who recently visited mainland China. People who have been to mainland China in the past two weeks should stay at home*. If they are not well, they should call the special ambulance^ and go to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
* If you are an NUS staff or student, please click here for the latest university advisories.
^ Please call 995 for the special dedicated ambulance and inform the ambulance operator of your travel history.
Q: Is there any need to change our upcoming travel plans?
Assoc Prof Hsu: It would be socially responsible to avoid travel to mainland China~ now, and also other countries in the future should travel advisories be issued for sustained community spread as the situation develops.
~ All NUS staff and students have been asked to defer official travel to mainland China until further notice. If you are an NUS staff or student, please click here for the latest university advisories.
Q: We know these are early days yet, but what do we know about this virus so far?
Prof Tambyah: We know that it’s in the same family as the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus. It’s very hard to determine the actual mortality rate but it seems to spread very efficiently between humans.
It seems to be spread by droplets and you need to be within three feet of the infected individual. Persons standing further than three feet away are relatively safe from infection.
Please refer to the MOH website for the latest developments.