Coronavirus Information for UK International Students

The UK Government is observing the situation firmly while taking action regarding the spread of Coronavirus. The risk of the illness remains moderate in the UK, however, the UK Government is aware that (international) students are concerned about the situation, as well as their friends and family in China and elsewhere.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that is caused by a new virus called coronavirus. This new illness can affect your lungs and airways and the symptoms vary from a mild cough to pneumonia. Basically, symptoms are known to be similar to the common cold or flu. Covid-19 symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • High temperature
  • Shortness of breath

Since these symptoms are similar to more common illnesses, it does not necessarily mean you have Covid-19. However, there is proof that this virus spreads from person to person, and while some people recover easily, others might react poorly to the illness.

International Student Support Services in the UK

It is important to know that student support services in higher education institutions in the UK are continuously willing to offer general support to concerned students. More specifically:

  • For more general support, international students are advised to contact their institution’s wellbeing support services or the students’ union.
  • As an international student, you may phone the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), and speak to the Student Advice Line on +442077889214 (1-4 pm UK time, Monday-Friday).
  • To reach the Government Helpline, staff, parents, and students are advised to contact the Department for Education (DfE) and inquire information about Covid-19 via phone or email. Phone: 0800 046 8687 / Email: [email protected]
  • For information relating to immigration issues related to Covid-19 only, you may contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline of UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration), by phone or email (9 am-5 pm). Phone: 0800 678 1767 / Email: [email protected]

Staying Safe in the Time of COVID-19

Staying safe means doing what is in your power to prevent getting or spreading the virus. One of the most essential things is to understand the importance of hygiene. The Department of Health and Social Care has issued an information campaign for the public, which pays special attention to proper handwashing. You must spend 20 seconds to wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, you must use hand sanitiser.

Make sure you wash your hands as frequently as possible, especially:

  • As soon as you get to work.
  • As soon as you get home.
  • Before preparing food.
  • Before starting to eat.
  • When you blow your nose, sneeze, or cough.
  • After having had contact with public spaces.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measures include:

  • Wash your hands properly (for at least 20 seconds) and frequently.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth (face in general) if your hands are not clean.
  • Keep your distance (at least 1 meter away), especially if you notice someone is showing symptoms similar to the flu (coughing or sneezing), since you may become infected by cough droplets.
  • Avoid crowds or closed spaces where people stay very close to one another.
  • Clean/disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What You Should Do If You Think You Have Coronavirus (COVID-19)

In case you have been in close contact with someone who has the disease, or you think you’re showing signs of the virus, here’s what you should do:

  • Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next.
  • Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy, or hospital.
  • Self-isolate yourself at home and avoid contact with other people.

In case you’re currently in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland:

  • Scotland: Call your GP surgery or call 111 if your surgery is unavailable.
  • Wales: Call 111.
  • Northern Ireland: Call 111.

Staying at Home During the Pandemic

The UK government has introduced a new set of rules when it comes to dealing with the virus in educational environments. More specifically, it was directed towards students in the UK residing in university halls of residence. Since university halls of residence are usually packed with students living close to one another, it is important to keep safe and follow government advice.

Social Distancing Safety Measures

Those who are social distancing (different rules apply if you are self-isolating), must comply with the following measures:

  • Shopping for essentials, like food and medicine, is allowed and must be infrequent. Necessary measures must also be taken into consideration, like washing hands as soon as you return home, and keeping your distance while you’re out.
  • You’re only allowed to do one form of exercise a day (run, walk, or cycle), with people you live with.
  • You can leave home if you can provide care for vulnerable persons.
  • You can leave home if you have medical needs or are required to travel to and from work.

Students Living in Halls of Residence (With Coronavirus Symptoms)

  • Students who are currently living in university halls of residence and are showing coronavirus symptoms must self-isolate for (at least) seven days and avoid contact with other people.
  • Higher education institutions should provide their support to assist these students.
  • Students should also consult with their university, college, or student hall manager regarding the circumstances.
  • Students should take care of their mental health just the same as physical health during their time indoors. It is advised to keep in contact with family or friends by phone or social media.

Students Living in Halls of Residence (Who Might Be Infected)

  • Students who live in university halls of residence with someone who has shown coronavirus symptoms should undertake a risk assessment by the local team of health protection to see who needs to be self-isolated for 14 days.
  • International students may not be able to return home in this situation. In this case, they should inform the managers of the residence halls.
  • Those who can return home, can only do so through private means of transport and not public. They must also inform their university, college, or residence hall manager.
  • Students who live on the same floor or cluster of flats, and share a kitchen or cooking facilities, with someone who has been infected are most likely to be required to stay in self-isolation for 14 days.

Students With No Other Residence Option

For international students who are not able to return to their home countries as a result of travel restrictions, the government has advised universities or colleges that have agreements with private hall providers to avoid evictions, taking into consideration the circumstances. Alternatively, if there is no agreement, universities should ensure that private hall providers have a solution to prevent students from being left without a residence alternative.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Immigration Guidance for International Students

If you’re an international student affected by travel restrictions due to coronavirus (Covid-19), the UK government has announced an immigration guide to help non-UK nationals currently in the UK, which includes the following information:

Chinese Nationals in the UK Whose Visa Is About to Expire (Or Has Already Expired)

Chinese nationals whose visa has been valid in the UK before the outbreak of Covid-19:

  • Your visa will be automatically extended to 31 March 2020 (if it has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020).
  • Your visa will also be extended if you’re in the UK on a long-term standard visitor visa (which lasts 2, 5, or 10 years), and you have reached the maximum stay of 180 days between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
  • If you’re a Chinese national in the UK and your visa was granted by the Irish authorities or Crown Dependency, and it expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, you should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (contact information above, under International Student Support Services in the UK) to further discuss the issue and circumstances.

The new expiry date of your visa (31 March) will be added to UK Visas and Immigration’s systems.

If you need a letter which confirms the extension, please contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (contact information above, under International Student Support Services in the UK).

Non-Chinese/EEA Nationals in the UK (Normally Resident in China)

Non-Chinese or non-EEA nationals in the UK (who are normally resident in China) whose visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (contact information above, under International Student Support Services in the UK).

Licensed Tier 4 Sponsors: Absences Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • Tier 4 students may be prevented from attending their studies as a result of coronavirus (quarantine, travel restrictions, etc).
  • It is not necessary for sponsors to report student absences (related to coronavirus) which they have authorised.
  • Withdrawing sponsorship is not necessary under exceptional circumstances, such as the student not being able to attend for more than 60 days due to Covid-19.

It should be noted that decisions on whether a student should be withdrawn from their studies are the responsibility of sponsors. The Home Office has announced that they will not take any action against students unable to attend their studies or sponsors who authorise absences as a result of coronavirus (Covid-19).

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