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Some residential university students describe disarray as hostels turned into quarantine facilities

SINGAPORE — Some students from four blocks of Prince George’s Park Residences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) said that chaos ensued after they learnt that they had to move out to make way for quarantine facilities for the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Security officers outside the entrance of Graduate Hall 1 at Nanyang Technological University which has been converted to a quarantine facility.

Security officers outside the entrance of Graduate Hall 1 at Nanyang Technological University which has been converted to a quarantine facility.

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SINGAPORE — Some students from four blocks of Prince George’s Park Residences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) said that chaos ensued after they learnt that they had to move out to make way for quarantine facilities for the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Recounting the experience to TODAY in a recent interview, a student who wanted to be known only as Ms Teo said that the students were informed by email that they had less than 24 hours to vacate their rooms but the school had not said where they would be moving to.

“The (residence) office was closed too, so there was an exodus of evicted students from the four blocks into the lobby outside the office. People were angry and confused and I saw some students crying and others shouting,” the 23-year-old undergraduate student said.

Eventually, they were moved into Residence 1 (R1) — a neighbouring unit to the government-designated quarantine area of Blocks 5, 6, 7 and 8 at Residence 2. But as renovation works at R1 were halted for the move, the rooms they moved into were dusty, dirty and bare.

Some of the students told TODAY that in the first few hours, R1 had no electricity and some rooms did not have refrigerators or curtains.

Prince George's Park Residences at the National University of Singapore where some blocks have been turned into quarantine facilities. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Like Ms Teo, several students from the other universities here said that they felt blindsided when they were told they had to vacate their rooms to make way for the Government's quarantine facilities.

Over at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), its Graduate Hall 1 and Blocks 9, 10 and 11 at Hall 2, as well as Block 83 at the Prinsep Street Residences of the Singapore Management University (SMU) were also vacated for this purpose.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Jan 27 that several more hostels will be affected and the Ministry of Education will make the announcements in due course.

TODAY sought comment from NUS, NTU, SMU and the ministry.

‘SUDDEN AND ABRUPT’ MOVE

Students across the three universities were informed of the move on Sunday Jan 26, the second day of Chinese New Year, and were given less than 24 hours to move out of their rooms.

NTU students living in the Hall 2 blocks were informed of the move on Jan 25, and were told to move out by 3pm two days later.

Students from NTU and NUS told TODAY that they were not given any warning that their hostels might be converted into quarantine facilities.

One SMU student said that some residential leaders were informed on Jan 24 that the Prinsep Street hostels had been listed as quarantine facilities.

“They were told that (the hostels) might become quarantine facilities but (they were not told) that we would have to move out,” Julia (not her real name) said. The undergraduate student had to vacate her room in Block 85.

In an email circular seen by TODAY, Singapore students from the non-quarantine blocks at SMU were also asked to vacate to make space for the international students who were leaving Block 83, the designated quarantine block.

Some students were also temporarily shifted to the SMU Connexion building where there are bunk beds for the students.

Circulars from NUS, NTU and SMU seen by TODAY stated that the universities will be contacting the affected students to arrange fee adjustments and refunds.

While the students who spoke to TODAY said they understood that the universities were under pressure to act swiftly in the face of a public health crisis, some still felt that the Government and the school administration could have been more transparent about the measures.

A second-year physics student at NTU, who wanted to be known only as Bob, said: “It is a unanimous consensus (among the students) that this whole thing was botched… They gave us an extremely unreasonable time span to move out. Did it even occur to them that it was extremely inconvenient for students who stay (far away from campus) or the students who were overseas during Chinese New Year?”

‘NOWHERE ELSE TO STAY’

At NUS, some students have chosen to find accommodation outside of school due to the poor conditions of the R1 hostel.

Ms Teo from NUS is among the students who have chosen to rent a place off campus.

“I did not think it was fair to us, both in terms of living standards and us having to pay the same fees for drastically worse conditions,” she said.

In a notice on NUS’ website, Associate Professor Leong Ching, the dean of student affairs, said that external vendors have been engaged to accelerate efforts to improve the amenities at R1.

“These include pest control measures, toilet and shower repairs, (and) kitchen amenities,” she said.

However, some international students told TODAY that they were concerned about living so close to the quarantine facilities but felt stuck because unlike the Singapore students, they have nowhere else they can go.

“Many of my friends are complaining because some of them live just opposite the quarantine blocks. They don’t feel comfortable living in Prince George’s Park Residences,” a Chinese student who wanted to be known only as Mr Song, 21, said.

The second-year student added: “But Prince George’s Park is home for many international students, so technically speaking, we don’t have anywhere to stay. It’s like you’re forced to stay here.”

As of 4pm on Tuesday, Assoc Prof Leong said that six students have been served quarantine orders and have been placed in the quarantine facilities at Prince George’s Park Residences.

A 28-year-old NTU postgraduate student, who is from the Philippines and who wanted to be known only as John, said that he stays in Graduate Hall 2 and was initially worried about living so close to the quarantine facilities. However, after seeing how the authorities and the university have handled the situation, his mind has been put at ease.

When TODAY visited the quarantine facilities at NUS and NTU on Tuesday, security officers were stationed in front of the hostels to stop students from entering. At NTU’s Graduate Hall 1, a sign was placed at a door to indicate that the building is a quarantine site.

STUDENT COMMUNITY RALLIES TOGETHER

Some students at NTU have come together to distribute welfare packs and deliver food to those who have been placed under quarantine.

Mr Leow Tien Wee, 22, who has volunteered to deliver food to his quarantined peers, said: “I think that this is the least we can do to the students on (leave of absence) to show that the NTU community supports and cares for them.”

Before making food deliveries, student volunteers have to undergo a safety briefing where they are required to sanitise their hands. They are also reminded to sanitise their hands after the delivery is complete.

“The food will also be nicely packed into plastic bags, and we simply need to hang it onto the door knobs,” Mr Leow said.

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Wuhan Wuhan virus quarantine students NUS NTU SMU university

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