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The Hong Kong flight ban: what does it mean for students?

hong kong flight ban
Boeing 747-436 - British Airways (G-BNLF)

Roar writer Justine Noble on the Hong Kong-UK flight ban.

Although I’m currently sitting peacefully in my quiet Dutch bedroom, it was only a few weeks ago that I was frantically running around my room in London, trying to get everything ready to go before my contract expired. It had been one hectic week for my flatmates and me. Between Fit-to-Fly Covid tests, packing all of our stuff, and filling out coronavirus travel forms, I thought life couldn’t possibly get more complicated. That was until my flatmate from Hong Kong, set to fly home on July 2, texted me in capital letters: “I CAN’T GO HOME.”

Turns out, on June 28, the Hong Kong government released a statement barring all flights from the UK into Hong Kong from July 1. Due to the mandatory and costly 21-day hotel quarantine and Covid tests, all Hong Kongers planning to return home had to book prior to their flights, those who were set to fly in July have been stranded in the UK for the time being.

While this news is, of course, alarming for any Hong Konger unable to reunite with their loved ones, particular concern has been given to students. Hong Kong nationals make up a large population of students at universities all over the UK, including King’s.

So what does this news mean for them? Well, it seems this cloud doesn’t quite have a silver lining. Firstly, the thousands of affected students now have to face the challenge of finding a place to stay for the summer. With many student accommodation contracts having already expired and last-minute student housing being tricky to find in many UK cities, many are facing stress levels that top their pre-flight anxieties. For example, my aforementioned flatmate, Jacqueline Anstiss, having just finished her first year, told Roar that even in London, finding a place at the last minute has been an extremely stressful and difficult process. In addition, she pointed out that while her saving grace at the moment is having friends and family in the UK with which she can stay for the moment, other Hong Kong students are not as lucky. For those without anywhere to go in the meantime, Hong Kong’s UK flight ban will most likely mean great expenses for last-minute accommodation.

Along with the stress of trying to figure things out in the UK, deserted students additionally have to deal with missing home. For many, it has been a year since they have been able to return home due to the pandemic. For some, it has been even longer. It would be unsurprising if the long period of separation from family which Hong Kong King’s students are experiencing ends up having a negative impact on their mental health and academic performance. When asked about the emotional impact of the ban, Jacqueline told Roar: “I feel miserable because I’ve been away from home and away from my family and friends for the majority of the year and I don’t see restrictions being lifted any time soon. As an international student, I’m quite homesick.” Indeed, life for an international student is challenging enough. Stuck at university for the summer while everyone’s left, many Hong Kongers have a long and lonely summer ahead of them.

What does this mean for King’s itself? While the Hong Kong government’s decisions are out of the college’s hands, there is still a lot it can do to support its affected students. In terms of accommodation, KCL should consider offering Hong Kong students who have just finished their first year the opportunity to extend their King’s Residences contracts so that they may return to their halls of residence. Equally, King’s could make contract start dates for any future King’s students that are already in the UK earlier. As for students going into their third year, any available accommodation should be made available to students who need it. When we asked Jacqueline what she thought King’s could be doing to help, she responded that although she didn’t think there was much, “in a perfect world, they should have sent an email with links to help students find accommodation for the summer for those stranded in the UK”.

Given the circumstances, the treatment granted to students by King’s and its partners is crucial as it has the potential to make an already stressful experience either so much better or so much worse. I was horrified to hear of a case at a King’s residence in which a Hong Kong student was charged an extra week’s worth of rent after needing two extra days to move all her belongings following flight cancellations and changed plans. Leniency is also vital for KCL itself. Without it, many students already reluctant to return to university from Hong Kong and other Covid-vigilant countries due to the risk of being stranded will be even more likely to stay home.

While Hong Kong’s ban on UK flights is an isolated incident, it poses a bigger question for the future: How will the world go back to normal when different countries hold different outlooks about how to handle the virus and its variants? When the UK scraps most of its restrictions on July 19, cases are predicted to rise rampantly. Perhaps then, Hong Kong won’t be the only country banning flights from the UK, impacting not only a greater number of university students but businessmen, dual citizens, diplomats, etc. If the amount of people “stranded” in the UK was to rise, whose responsibility would it be to help them?

In such a globalized world, life will not be able to return to normal if people will not be able to travel freely in and out of the country, rendering the entire prospect of “freedom” on the 19th counterintuitive and ironic. Undoubtedly, while millions are getting vaccinated and restrictions are being lifted, the coronavirus will continue to pose challenges to the UK for months to come.

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