As the end of the semester draws near, the general mood across campus seems to be a kind of cautious optimism, undercut by pessimistic realism. Despite Matt Hancock’s earlier refusal to rule out banning students returning home, (although how he could possibly have been clairvoyant enough to know what the situation would be like three months down the line is still unclear) the university and the Scottish government have pursued a more realistic, and frankly more humane strategy.
This week marks the announced start of voluntary testing for students seeking to travel within the UK. It does not provide a ‘fit to fly’ note for those travelling internationally, but it does at least go some way towards safely uniting Scottish and UK students with their families. Most of us it seems, who are able to, will get to spend a Christmas free from argument over the heating bill.
Yet for those travelling overseas, and especially outside of Europe, the month ahead remains even more uncertain. Decisions to travel abroad involve considerations of flight dates and prices, isolation requirements upon arrival, and the health of those we come into contact with when at home. Planning ahead in such cases often proves impossible, given the dizzying tempo of change to guidelines and restrictions. For some of us then, little has changed since the beginning of the semester. Future plans are still a game of roulette, with us holding our breath as we wait to see if the ball will fall in our favour.
The New Year and following semester also remain undecided, contingent as they are on the outcome of the holidays. Regardless, the regularly irregular “new normal” is here to stay. For those of us who hoped to spend our last semester back inside classrooms, this is not just a disappointment, but a perpetual frustration.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that many of us have started daydreaming about the prospects that a post-vaccine world could hold. It’s become a sort of hopeful joke in our flat; the pres we’ll host, the Big Cheese we’ll finally go to after four years of saying we should, not to mention the number of people we’ll hug senseless. But how realistic are our chances?
As someone who considers it a point of pride to be recklessly optimistic, I can’t help denying it to myself when it comes to the new year ahead. My faith in the UK government to “get shit done” isn’t high to begin with and so it seems natural to question its ability to roll out a nationwide vaccination programme. It has after all taken them four years to deliver the Brexit they so badly wanted. And although many vaccines exist, which granted is no small feat, they are all still in phase three trials, after which they must still be subject to an independent review and only then can they be manufactured. Optimistic estimates set the date as Christmas 2020, while more pessimistic ones say spring 2021. Overall, our chances of a Covid-free semester don’t seem so high.
Indeed, in many ways, the government’s setting up of Covid vaccination centres, despite the lack of an approved vaccine, closely resembles our daydreaming of post-vaccine university life. It’s a way of preserving our cautious optimism, despite the reservations our pessimistic realism brings to the fore. Maybe change is closer than some of us are willing to admit, I certainly hope so, but even a vaccine isn’t a panacea for everything. Covid hasn’t just changed university life, it’s pushed it in a different direction. What the outcome will be only time will tell.
Image: kaysgeog via flickr