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UK cautions against foreign travel as chaos hits homebound Indian students


Passengers at the London Heathrow Airport (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Passengers at the London Heathrow Airport (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

IN an unprecedented move, the UK government has urged British nationals to avoid all non-essential foreign travel amid the coronavirus chaos across the world.

The foreign office said on Tuesday (17) that the travel curbs will be in place for 30 days, and extended if needed.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.

“The speed and range of those measures across other countries is unprecedented.

“So I have taken the decision to advise British nationals against all non-essential international travel.”

The foreign office said “people who decide that they still need to travel abroad should be fully aware of the increased risks of doing so”, including the possibility that “they may not be able to get home, if travel restrictions are put in place”.

“Anyone still considering travel to be realistic about the level of disruption they are willing and able to endure, and to make decisions in light of the unprecedented conditions we face,” it added.

The announcement came as India banned all inbound travellers from the UK, European Union and Turkey from Wednesday (18) to March 31.

Indian students in the UK were reportedly “desperate to return to India”. The Indian High Commission in London was flooded with queries from worried students, eager to get back home and be with their families.

Universities and student associations in the UK issued advisories to alleviate panic among the students, many of whom were on visas close to expiry.

Many students had booked on flights later this month as the annual Easter break was to kick in soon, but were now stranded. Also, most universities had cancelled all face-to-face classes and exams for the third term.

The Indian High Commission in London said it was “working with both the Indian and UK authorities to address concerns of the Indian citizens living in the UK”.

“All Indian citizens may register with us [online] so that updates may be shared by email,” it said, adding that Indians could connect via social media or email at [email protected]

The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK was offering telephonic assistance, and urging students to stay calm and connected.

“Please do not panic, support each other and take necessary precautions to be safe,” said its latest advisory.

“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.”

Most universities have cancelled all physical presence in classrooms and the University of Oxford was considering an online examination system for the first time.

The UK Home Office, meanwhile, 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 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 noted.

“Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus which they have authorized.”

The Home Office said it recognised the “exceptional” situation and will not take any action against students or employees who were 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 UK high commission in India, meanwhile, advised British nationals in the country to self-isolate for seven days if they developed flu-like symptoms, and contact the Indian government in case their condition worsens.

UK’s Acting High Commissioner to India Jan Thompson, in a video posted on Twitter, said the situation remained “fluid”, and asked British nationals to follow instructions of Indian authorities.

Thompson said: “Given the current circumstances, we understand that many people currently in India may want to return to the UK sooner than planned.

“Provided you are not subject to quarantine, anyone who wishes to do so should contact their airline or travel provider in order to arrange for their journey home.

“We are working closely with Indian authorities to monitor developments.”