LONDON – Indian students in the UK are desperate to return to India and have flooded the Indian High Commission here with queries about when they are likely to get back home and be with their families, as New Delhi bans travellers from Britain starting on Wednesday due to the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.
India on Monday banned the entry of passengers from Europe, Turkey and the UK from March 18 till March 31 to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus virus that has claimed three lives so far and infected nearly 150 people.
Britain’s death toll from the COVID-19 has risen to 71 and the number of infection cases have gone up to nearly 1,950.
Universities and student associations in the UK are putting out advisories to try to calm some of the panic among the students, many of whom are on visas that are close to expiry and others who simply want to be with their loved ones as all face-to-face classes begin to be cancelled.
Many were booked on flights later this month as the annual Easter break was to kick in soon but are now stranded at least until March 31 under India’s travel ban in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“High Commission is working with both the Indian and UK authorities to address concerns of the Indian citizens living in the UK,” the Indian High Commission in London said.
“All Indian citizens may register with us so that updates may be shared by email,” it said, in reference to an online registration system it has created for Indian citizens in the UK to be kept informed.
The mission said that its regular Public Response Unit was unavailable due to “technical reasons” and Indians in the UK can connect via social media or email at info.london@meagovin.
“I registered. Kindly allow us a few days (3-4 days) so that we can return. Please understand the plight of us students who booked return tickets over the coming weekend and suddenly, we cannot return anymore,” said one student, who has been unable to meet the Wednesday travel deadline.
“I am a student in the University of Warwick. Please urgently help me return to Bangalore to my family. The university has cancelled all face to face classes and exams for the third term,” said another.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative body for Indian students in the UK, has been fielding calls and urging students to stay calm and support each other through the crisis.
“Please do not panic, support each other and take necessary precautions to be safe,” it said in its latest advisory for students.
“Any students due to commence studies after March 2020 and concerned about the situation due to coronavirus, please discuss your concerns with your university in the first instance,” it adds.
Most universities have cancelled all physical presence in classrooms and the University of Oxford is considering an online examination system for the first time as a result of the pandemic.
The UK Home Office, meanwhile, has eased rules around campus absences of students on Tier 4 visas and called on universities and employers to consider exceptional circumstances for those on other types of work visas.
“Some Tier 4 students or Tier 2/5 employees may be prevented from attending their studies or employment due to illness, the need to serve a period of quarantine or the inability to travel due to travel restrictions caused by coronavirus,” its guidance notes.
“Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus which they have authorised,” it said.
The Home Office said it recognised the current situation was “exceptional” and will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies or work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason.
The outbreak, which first emerged in China’s Wuhan city last year, has infected 198,006 people and killed 7,948, according to a tracker maintained by the Johns Hopkins University.