A group of Indian students took refuge overnight at the Indian High Commission in London on Saturday and demanded to fly to India despite the travel restrictions in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The group of 19 students, mainly from Telangana, have declined alternative housing deals arranged with the help of Indian diaspora groups, as India's ban on travelers from the UK and Europe remains in effect until the end of this month.
"The Indian community tried to help them, and initially it was a group of 59 students, 40 of whom were given alternative housing, but the remaining 19 are completely unreasonable and refuse to move," said a community leader who worked with the High Commission on arrangements for stranded students.
Many of them had booked flights to India later this month, just in time for an Easter break at universities in the UK. However, India released an updated travel guide earlier this week, stating that after 1200 GMT, no travelers will be allowed to enter India from March 18-31.
"There are simply no flights and we cannot put any lives at risk at the moment. They were allowed to enter the High Commission building and provide food, water and emergency shelters, but now they only camp with their bags and luggage." he said.
The students were taken to a quarantine area where the Visa and Consular Section is located in the Indian High Commission building in Aldwych, central London.
It had triggered a last-minute blow for flights, as many students sought help from the Indian High Commission on social media when their travel plans went wrong with the rapid spread of the pandemic.
The Indian mission has launched an online registration system and exchanged contact information for a number of Indian diaspora groups trying to help feed and accommodate panicked students and Indian nationals.
"I am an Indian citizen, currently in Newcastle, UK, on a student visa. My visa expires on March 24, 2020. I should return to India on March 23, 2020 and all flights will be canceled due to the COVID. What should I do? ? "Wrote a student in an appeal to the High Commission.
These students are advised to contact the UK Home Office's Coronavirus Immigration Helpline. In the meantime, the Home Office has stated that the current situation is "exceptional" and no compliance measures are being taken against students or staff who cannot participate in their studies or work due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative office for Indian students in the UK, took calls and asked the students not to panic, support each other and take the necessary precautions to ensure safe go.
When the UK closed completely on Saturday, universities across the UK said they were aware of the plight of international students, many of whom cannot go anywhere when the campus closes.
University Minister, Michelle Donelan said: "I am pleased that Universities UK has confirmed that the institutions will be flexible and will do everything they can to help students advance to higher education."
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker, the death toll from the virus has increased to 13,044 worldwide. More than 307,104 cases have been reported in over 171 countries and areas.
As of Saturday, there were 5,018 confirmed cases in the UK, and 233 people died from the fatal corona virus that occurred in China's city of Wuhan last year.