Students returning from the United Kingdom (UK) have to serve their Stay-Home Notices in designated locations, and for 26-year-old Clarence Ching, it is no different.
Clarence enrolled in a political science course at Durham University in the UK in October 2017 and was due to finish his degree later this year. But as the COVID-19 situation worsened in the UK, his school term was cut short.
He heeded the advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to return to Singapore.
Since his return last Thursday (Mar 26), he has been serving his Stay-Home Notice in a hotel room at the Village Hotel Albert Court - and he isn't allowed to leave his hotel room at all times.
He shared with Youth.SG about his experience serving his Stay-Home Notice:
"It hasn't been too bad; everything has been very surreal. My school term was cut short by two weeks, and it was very chaotic in my last two weeks in the UK. Now that I'm back, it's been pretty calm.
On the plane, there was only one person in each row, although I wasn't certain if it was done on purpose, or if there wasn't much demand for my flight as it was the last one to Singapore from Manchester. All the air stewardesses were wearing masks too.
When I got off the plane, we were immediately informed that we could not wander off. An ICA officer briefed us on what was going to happen and the things we should and shouldn't do. We also had to sign some declaration forms.
They got us to clear immigration immediately - we weren't even allowed to visit the duty-free shops . Interestingly, they removed the thumbprint scanners at the immigration counters and we could only do iris scans.
The process was largely the same thereafter. I collected my luggage, cleared customs, and went straight to the buses that would bring us to the hotel. There were six others in the coach with me.
For the swab tests, we only needed to take them if we were showing symptoms, or we felt like we needed it.
At the hotel
We were told that we couldn't step out of the hotel room at all times for the next 15 days, including Day 0. We are only allowed to open the door to collect our food or laundry, or to put out the trash.
There are stipulated times for meals - Breakfast between 7am to 9am, lunch between 12pm to 2pm, and dinner between 6pm to 8pm. They will ring the doorbell and leave the meals outside the room, and we'll collect it after they leave. There's a set menu for each meal, and I have to say that the food is really good and quite diverse.
Clarence says that the food options have been great.
PHOTO CREDIT: CLARENCE CHING
For our trash, we leave it outside our room and they will collect it every two to three hours. It's the same process for laundry, which they will collect only on even days of the week.
Thankfully, we are allowed to order food in as well. All we need is to inform the delivery service to drop it off at the reception and a hotel staff will bring it up for us. Likewise, family members can do the same if they want to pass us food or any other items.
So far, I've ordered bubble tea and a McDonald's meal! Initially I planned to rush to a McDonald's outlet once the Stay-Home Notice is completed - but I guess I missed the McDonald's here a little too much.
The only time Clarence is allowed to open his hotel room door is to collect food or leave out the laundry and trash.
PHOTO CREDIT: CLARENCE CHING
Free staycation? Not so much...
I know that many people have said that those returning from overseas have earned a free staycation. Honestly, it isn't all enjoyment, really.
I haven't seen my family members since I got back. Of course, initially when I decided to return home, I planned to return home but I was also worried about potentially infecting my parents. Staying in a hotel is bittersweet.
There's no fresh air too because the windows in the hotel room can't be opened. Being cooped in a room for 15 days while dealing with jet lag is not easy. It's really a mental battle for me.To deal with it, I'm taking short naps in between the day. When I'm awake, I've been catching up on work, school assignments, reading and doing some exercises.
I've also been catching up on a lot of messages - some people asked if they can visit me, but obviously they can't.
I also spent a lot of time figuring out what's going to happen to my education. I've been informed by the school that our last term, from mid-April to June, is cancelled. While they have promised us we will graduate, there is no timeline for it. It's been a constant worry.
The university told us that we can do online exams, but there are some modules where you can't do an online exam at all, so we have no clue what's going to happen.
There are plenty of uncertainties about how our degree will be classified and that in turns affects our prospects of securing a job. Thankfully, the traineeships announced in the supplementary budget by the government will help.
In the meantime, I'm going to focus on my work with Access Singapore, a non-profit organisation that provides career exposure opportunities to secondary school students from backgrounds and educational streams which are traditionally less reached. So far, I've been doing meetings via video call and clearing my emails.
Clarence has spent the majority time in the hotel room catching up on work and figuring out what's going to happen to his education.
PHOTO CREDIT: CLARENCE CHING
Life changing experience
I'm sure this will be a story to tell our grandchildren for those of us who made it back to Singapore from the UK.
My last two weeks in the UK is the complete opposite of what's happening in Singapore. Everything started to unfold as cases rose exponentially. I had friends who couldn't get a doctor's appointment for three weeks, even if you were very ill.
Supplies depleted at Tesco and that was when the reality of the whole COVID-19 situation started to hit me. The whole approach in the UK to fight the virus was very slow too. Some of my friends who didn't want to come back initially had to pack their luggage and buy their flight tickets on the very same day.
For me, I did my packing in two days - it was a mad rush. Getting to the airport was a nightmare. Train service stopped completely. I even had to sleep at the airport, because all the hotels around the airport were fully booked. It was a living nightmare and the only thing in my mind was anticipating what was going to happen next as things were changing literally every hour.
Touching down in Singapore, you just know you are home, and nothing beats that feeling."
BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: CLARENCE CHING