Coronavirus: A nightmare for parents of students studying abroad

Ranveer Singh has made several calls and sent emails in the past two days to a college in the Italian city of Florence and India’s foreign ministry. His son is a student in Florence and he is trying to bring back him to India, as the Covid-19 situation worsens in Italy.

The 22-year-old is among thousands of students and other Indians stuck in Italy, as New Delhi has made certificates attesting that they did not have the coronavirus infection mandatory for them to travel to India.

On March 6, his college announced that it would suspend classes, but said that it might reopen on March 11, which was last Wednesday. Not wanting to miss out on the exams which had been halted, he had decided not to come back.

Now, the police in Florence are not allowing anyone to even leave their rooms, said Singh. Transport to the airport is also not available.

As the pandemic spreads, parents of students studying in Italy and other foreign countries are panic-stricken and trying to get their children home as the situation worsens, especially in European countries.

There are about 50,000 Indian students studying in the European Union.

Stecy John, an Indian student studying in Rome, said she, along with several of her friends, was stuck in Rome, unable to fly out as they had not been able to procure certificates attesting that they did not have the Covid-19 coronavirus infection.

While she was back at her flat, many students were stranded at the airport as they have given up their apartments in order to get the money to fly out. When they reached the airport, there were no flights.

The foreign ministry on Friday said it would collect samples of students in Italy and send those for testing; those who aren’t infected would be allowed to fly to India. The ministry has given students a form and told them that they could use it to venture out of their homes in order to go for testing as most parts of that country is in lockdown.

One parent who did not wish to be named said her daughter in the UK, who was supposed to come back later in March after her student visa expired, had advanced the return. She is now worried that if the situation escalates, even those returning from the UK might be put under the 14-day quarantine.

Down under in Australia, students who ET spoke to are not as panicked. Darpan Manek, a second-year MBA student studying in Melbourne, said there was not much panic among students there. There were rumours that universities might shut down in the future, and classes had fewer attendance than usual, especially by Asians. However, in supermarkets, aisles were running empty as people were hoarding basic items. There were also reports of violence in supermarkets, he said.

Manek said he didn’t want to return as yet because he wasn’t sure when he would be allowed entry back into Australia.

Kabir Nagpal, a first-year master’s student of a Barcelona university, said all his classes had moved online more than a week ago. While students were not anxious, there were debates among the Indian community about why Spain had not been closed down like Italy. Many were also choosing not to come back after the Indian government announced that all those who return from overseas would be quarantined for 14 days, and this was not a prospect they looked forward to. Traveling might make it more dangerous, so it was safer to stay put, he said.

Another PhD student in Jena, Germany, who declined to be named, said she was nervous as there was not enough news coming in about the situation. An MBA student in Montreal, Canada, who also spoke anonymously, said, “People are getting serious now.” He said classes at his university had been suspended for a few days.

Nishtha Kumaar, an MBA student in Madrid who returned to India on Wednesday, echoed the same sentiment. While students had been going about their normal life, supermarkets were running out of masks and sanitisers before she left. Her university has now shifted all classes, presentations and exams online.

Parents of students in the US said they were in a wait-and-watch mode.

According to the latest World Health Organisation data, there have been more than 1,32,000 reported cases of the virus infection so far, and more than 4900 deaths. India recorded the first coronavirus-related death on Thursday — a 76-year-old man in Karnataka’s Kalaburagi. As of Friday evening, the number of confirmed infections in India has reached 81.

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