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DOS Update #17 - NUS COVID-19 case had no recent contact with students

  PUBLISHED: 13 February 2020, 8:00 p.m.

As part of the COVID-19 protocol, all areas that the faculty member visited have been and will be thoroughly disinfected. Photos: University Campus Infrastructure


  1. NUS has its first confirmed case of COVID-19. He is a faculty member at the School of Design and Environment (SDE), who developed symptoms on Monday night.
  2. We are working with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to conduct contact tracing. Those who have had close contact with him will be put under Quarantine Orders (QO). These people have already been given bridging Leave Of Absence (LOA) by NUS.
  3. He has no recent contact with students.

Dear Students:

One of our faculty members (FM) at the School of Design and Environment (SDE) has been confirmed as a COVID-19 patient.

If you have been in close contact with the FM, the relevant authorities will contact you shortly. If you have had no contact with the FM, you will not have to take any special action. We know that the FM has not had any recent contact with students.

However, in light of the heightened concern that must follow such news, the Office of the Senior Deputy President and Provost at NUS has approved the following measures with immediate effect:

  1. Some staff members have interacted with the FM. These colleagues have gone on a mandatory LOA even though they have not been identified as close contacts by MOH. They are healthy and show no symptoms. They are no different from other students and staff who are on LOA.
  2. All classes at SDE are now on e-learning. Those classes which cannot go online are suspended for seven days, starting from tomorrow, Friday, 14 February, through Friday, 21 February, inclusive, prior to recess week (22 February to 1 March).
  3. All professors and instructors are strongly encouraged to provide e-learning alternatives where feasible, regardless of class size.

As part of its COVID-19 protocol, all areas that the FM visited have been and will be thoroughly disinfected.

The above measures are designed to allow you to continue your education and essential activities at your own comfort level.

Is it time to panic?

We understand that some of you may be anxious upon hearing this news. That is because panic and fear are natural reactions. May I offer three points that I hope will stand against these?

First, the facts of the case suggest that the impact of the case is localised and limited.

The FM had no contact with students since 5 February. He had last been at work on Monday, when he was well. He had attended a meeting at SDE and went straight home in the afternoon. He developed symptoms later that night and did not return to campus. In short, he was last on campus when he was well and had no symptoms. In this way, the impact of his interactions is localised and limited.

Second, NUS’ response measures are swift and already exceed those required by MOH.

Any international student who would like to return home can apply for an LOA at their faculty. I understand that there is a petition going on, but there really is no need – LOAs have been granted for students even in normal times, for different reasons, including for health, or personal circumstances. I had earlier provided a link and do so again here. In addition, any student at a hostel who feels he no longer wants to stay on can write to his Master and give up his place. The balance of the fees will be refunded.

Finally, let me tell you about ambulances in the night.

You will recall that I am alerted each night when a student on LOA on campus needs an ambulance. My updates following these have been prosaic – they are found to have “minor conditions not virus-related”, they are “discharged and well”.  

I meet with the student leaders almost daily and keep them updated on these cases. Every time I tell them of a negative test result, we celebrate for a brief moment. Then I warn them: “I may not always be telling you good news. You must be prepared for that.”

The fact is, sometimes, the wait to find out that the fever is not virus-related can be very long. The wait over the course of the night is 12 hours of pure dread.

Then the morning comes.

We did not find each other sleeping – and I know then that we can face the new day, come what may.

A/P Leong Ching
NUS Dean of Students