In the early weeks of the UK lockdown, many students shared a hope that if the restrictions were followed, a ‘normal’ summer would be possible. As the months went on, however, it became apparent this was wishful thinking.
Holidays were cancelled, plans were scrapped, and for many of us, the summer was spent in our parks and back gardens.
The new hope then was for a regular return to the first semester. Surely, almost six months since the first restrictions were put in place, life would feel a bit more recognisable. But with a fresher’s week limited to zoom meetings and online pub quizzes, reality hit in much the same way.
And now, with the new restrictions announced today by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, it seems there’s little chance of things improving anytime soon. In order to help bring down the recent surge in the number of daily cases, students were banned from going to pubs last weekend and visiting other households is no longer permitted.
Now, pubs and restaurants will be closed for 16 days starting Friday at 6 pm. This means many students are also unable to return home.
Facing such uncertainty, a lot of students are not sure how to cope or what to expect next.
Nikita Parson, a student of Russian Studies & Politics found student life a challenge even before the new rules were put in place. “I knew the restrictions but didn’t realise how much they’d impact me…” she continued, “ I went to a couple flat parties but it wasn’t the same as a night out and then my mental health took a big dip” adding, “Lockdown just isn’t a fun time and making friends is a struggle.”
However, Nikita has found some ways to cope. Online gaming was one way of dealing with an underwhelming fresher’s, she said: “It feels like meeting strangers but without having to go out.”
Nikita also suggested that getting out into the city and walking around has been another way she’s been able to take her mind off things. ‘I’ve been walking about enough to have blisters for feet’
Exercise seems to be a popular way among students to deal with the present situation. Ava Lehane, who has recently begun her degree in Mathematics & Statistics, said about her Freshers’ week “I played as much football as I could have”. Grace Howitt who is studying English Literature & Classics agrees, “Sports have been really good for me” stating “’cause it’s social and active, I just hope that it doesn’t get locked down soon.”
Whilst the new restrictions that were announced in England last Tuesday stated a ban on indoor sports, for now at least they are still allowed to take place in Scotland. It is yet another example of the ambiguity of the current moment.
Garion Adams, who studies History & Archaeology, is satisfied with the University of Edinburgh’s management, “I find the measures put in place by the uni to be sound”. However, he is less impressed by the government’s control over things, “I have little faith in the government’s overall handling of the virus, I’m hopeful that we won’t get a second lockdown, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Another Edinburgh student who has just started her studies in Linguistics said: “I’m trying not think about the uncertainty too much, I’m just thinking of how I can live a semi-normal life while taking precautions and hoping that in the (hopefully near) future it will be resolved and life will be able to go back to normal.”
Others are hopeful, perhaps only because of a lack of a legitimate alternative. Grace adds “I think I am hopeful, but mainly because I have to be. Otherwise what was the point of coming to university this year?”
Despite the air getting colder and the days getting shorter, this sort of tentative hope seems to be a fairly common attitude amongst students here. But with reports from Sage, the government’s scientific advisers, that “significant outbreaks” from universities were “highly likely” the enormous recent rise in cases and the increasingly harsh restrictions, many other students are reconsidering their future in student halls.
Hundreds of students across the country are already having to self-isolate inside student halls in what are often prison-like conditions. Confined to one room, with no ability to go out and socialise, premade food packages are left at their doors. It is not what a lot of students expected to be paying for.
Katherine, a student of Computing Science from Northern Ireland does not want to have to endure something similar. “I will move back if a lockdown happens. It isn’t fair to keep students basically locked in one room with barely any natural light and not much of a social life when I could be at home with my family and my pets”
Another student who is studying Spanish at Edinburgh is unsure how she could make a reasonable decision in the case of a second lockdown. “If we had more clarity and transparency from the government, the decision and planning process would be much easier for all us students. How long will lockdown last? Is it safe to go back home? What if I still have to pay rent? How will moving back home affect my studies.”
“My biggest fear is getting stuck in Scotland for months and being unable to return to my family in wales, if I chose to stay. But equally what if moving back negatively impacts my focus and motivation for my studies”
“The uncertainty might force most of to make last minute unplanned decisions on whether we stay or go.”
The future has never felt this uncertain, but with the recent single-day record in cases in Scotland, the signs of a second lockdown are looming.
Image: Bill Dickinson via Flickr