Safe distancing rules still being flouted in NTU, say students

  • While safety measures are in place, students are worried about those who break safe distancing rules on campus despite an announcement that a Covid-19 case visited NTU
  • They suggest online lessons and optional attendance for physical lessons to reduce numbers in school
  • One student raised his suggestions on safe distancing in NTU on Reddit and will be meeting school officials this week to voice his concerns

By Rexanne Yap
Additional reporting by Chong Xin Wei

Last updated: 15:30pm, Sep 14

The NTU campus is abuzz with fresh concerns on whether the university is doing enough to safeguard students from Covid-19, following a Sep 8 announcement that an infected ex-staff had visited three eateries in school while infectious.

Most students speaking to Soapbox said NTU responded well to the case, but others noted that students are still flouting safe distancing measures. A few added that NTU should consider holding more online lessons to limit the on-campus population.

According to a Ministry of Health press release, the ex-staff, who was asymptomatic, had visited the Quad Cafe at the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), Paik’s Bibim and the North Spine Food Court while infectious. 

NTU’s Presidential Office added in a memo to students on Sep 9 that the ex-staff was last seen in school on Aug 28, two weeks before the news broke.

Flouting safe distancing rules 

Third-year student Tan Peng Xuan, 23, said that it would be difficult for NTU to prevent an infected person from roaming the campus.

“Unless you really lock the whole school down. But then it would be overdoing it already,” said the student from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

He added that NTU’s safe distancing measures already fulfil national requirements, and that the university promptly notified students of the Covid-19 case once it was reported in the news.

Second-year student Andra Shankar, 20, said she was initially scared by the news of a positive case in NTU.

“But then I was thinking like, it happened like two weeks ago. They probably already sanitised the place and everything so I am comfortable coming here,” said the student from the School of Humanities (SOH).

On the other hand, Tan Kai Ying, another Year 2 student from SOH, said many students disregard safe distancing regulations.

The 20-year-old recalled a recent example of another student standing too close to her while she queued outside The Crowded Bowl, an eatery at North Spine Plaza. 

“He was literally right behind me,” she said.

A second-year student from the Asian School of the Environment, Loh Hao Yang, echoed Tan’s sentiments.

“I think that NTU secured all bases… A lot of students don’t check in everywhere they go because it will take a lot of time and they are just lazy,” said the 22-year-old.

Loh felt that students had become complacent because of Singapore’s low count in daily community cases. To get students to abide by safe distancing measures would take “something big”, he added. 

“During lunch and dinner you will see groups of 10 to 20. It is just so normal and it is an accident waiting to happen, but who is going to be the one to tell them to split up?”

“If everyone thinks that it is not serious, then all it takes is one accident… it’s a gamble if we let our guard down too much,” he added.

Limiting the student population

Some students felt that having a Covid-19 case in NTU was inevitable because of the sheer number of physical interactions within campus every day. 

A second-year student from the School of Materials Science and Engineering who wanted to be known only as Rachael, said: “With the symptoms coming so late, a person might not know that they have Covid-19 and they are still going around.” 

“If it is possible, [NTU] could have more online [lessons] to keep people away.” 

Final-year student Yong Wei Koh, 25, has been appealing to both the Student Union (SU) and the Chief Health, Safety and Emergency Officer (CHSEO) for more online classes since the start of the semester.

The SBS student told Soapbox that he was not asking for physical classes to be cancelled, as he understands students might prefer physical lessons for modules that require discussion.

Instead, Yong proposed that all online classes should be recorded; physical attendance should not be required; and larger spaces such as exam halls should be opened up for students who cannot study at home.

“Although only a minority are affected by the online/offline issue, we should not discount what they are facing because in absolute numbers, these 100 or 200 students should deserve better,” said Yong.

But he said that responses to his appeals have been slow and negative, leaving him “frustrated”.

Yong said: “The taichi-ing of my concerns from the President’s office, to CHSEO, to the SBS Chair and back to CHSEO again only wasted valuable time.” 

“We are currently in unprecedented times and we never know what might happen next. The longer we wait to take action, the bigger the issue becomes.”

Yong documented his emails with several SU officers in a Reddit comment on r/singapore.

He added that he would be personally meeting with Dr Goh Chin Foo from the Office of Health, Safety and Emergency on Tuesday (Sep 15) to discuss his concerns.  

When queried on his response to Yong’s arguments, SU President Bryan Chiew declined to comment on private emails between NTUSU and students “in the interest of privacy”.

However, Chiew said: “NTUSU takes a case by case approach to every student concern particularly due to the diversity of courses in NTU and depending on the programme. Nonetheless, we try our best to account for every student’s feedback and take our duty to represent and raise students’ feedback to NTU management.”

In the NTU President Office’s Sep 9 memo, the deputy president and provost and senior vice president of administration wrote: “We would like to assure you that the University’s priority remains to ensure the safety and well-being of all students employees, and visitors, while providing an optimal learning environment for our students in the new Academic Year.”

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