COVID Series: The Impact on Singapore-based UK Boarding Students

The COVID-19 epidemic which has been sweeping the globe began in Singapore on the 23rd January 2020. Although Singapore successfully contained the initial outbreak[1], a second wave of outbreak caused by travellers from the West has meant a rising number of cases in the city-state[2]. As of 20th March 2020, there were 385 confirmed cases with the majority of new cases imported from the UK. 

With lessons learnt from the SARS outbreak in 2003, Singapore quickly put measures in place to contain Covid-19’s spread:  free testing for all, subsidised medical treatment for respiratory illnesses, travel advisories, daily WhatsApp updates by the government and bonuses for works on the frontlines.  On 7th February, Singapore had 33 confirmed cases and one of the highest in the world outside China.  That day, the government raised the DORSCON risk level to “Orange”.  Temperature checks, frequent hand-washing became the norm and companies implemented their business contingency plans.

The UK government issued advisories for travellers from a number of Asian countries including Singapore, asking them to self-isolate for 14 days if they were symptomatic and call the National Health Service.  By then, the UK boarding schools were on high alert, given their close-knit communities and shared living and teaching facilities.  Some schools implemented precautions over and above the UK government guidelines, and imposed a 14-day quarantine on students returning from affected areas.  For parents living in Singapore, this had a huge impact.  Plans for their children to return home for exeats and the February half-term break had to be changed, parent-teacher meetings, school events and performances could not be attended and prospective families had to cancel in-person school visits and assessments.

As Covid-19 started to spread quickly through Europe and the UK in March, a trend of cross-border travel restrictions and lockdowns started being put in place.  Governments began to advise their citizens to return to home countries, sending signals that there had to be strict controls put in place for the movement of people.  Parents in Singapore with children studying in the UK boarding schools flew them back home, and distance learning through online platforms commenced in an ad hoc manner.  Within days, the UK Prime Minister announced schools would need to close until further notice and by Friday 20th March, all gates were shut.

With a week or two still left of the Spring term, schools have been forced to move their instructions online. Although each school has their own processes, we are seeing a range of different approaches – setting assignments online, class video calls, remote roll calls and virtual matrons checking on tidy rooms. 

Like many countries urging their citizens home, Singapore has also been calling back their overseas students studying in the UK.  There are around 7,000 Singaporeans pursuing higher education in Britain and with universities going virtual, many are now making their journeys back home. Recognising that students usually have less support in a foreign country, the government is providing assistance to UK-based students to arrange flights back on Singapore Airlines.  This help is currently ongoing and can be accessed through completion of this form[3]

Upon arrival in Singapore, all incoming travellers are issued with a 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN) and must stay at home and minimise contact with others living with them. SHNs apply to those who feel well, do not display any symptoms of the virus and did not have any close contact with others with confirmed cases.  Leaving home results in disciplinary action (the police force has been enlisted for enforcement).  You could also find yourself issued with a Quarantine Order (QO) if there has been close contact with a confirmed case or the more lenient Leave of Absence (LOA).  Check out the subtle differences in this article[4].

The measures that all countries are now putting in place may seem extreme and harsh.  But in Singapore, people are now more understanding and appreciative of what has been done to stop the spread of Covid-19.  Information is shared and solidarity seen amongst the population (other than the brief panic-buying of toilet paper episode!).  Singapore and the UK continue to have strong ties in education and academia, and we would like to share one example through this 9th March commentary[5] from the UK’s Nuffield Trust which is also a succinct summary of Singapore’s battle so far with Covid-19.

So what will the next weeks bring us?  Although GCSEs and A levels have been cancelled[6] for this year, it should not be licence for a prolonged Easter holiday.  Families are preparing for a new norm of virtual school and extra-curricular activities at a distance.  At Waypoints, we continue to stay abreast of developments in UK boarding schools and are here to help with your questions.  We can also assist with arranging online tuition, mentoring and other support.  Just drop us a line at

Stay home, stay healthy!