As the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic tore through the country, everybody was instructed to work from home if they could. Many workers, however, did not have this option – the nature of their jobs meant that working remotely was not possible.
Now that the nation is gripped by a second wave of the virus, The Student spoke to three Edinburgh students who worked as key workers over the summer.
Vaishnavi works for a care company in Edinburgh, where she assists an elderly person with tasks such as shopping and cooking. “A lot changed when the pandemic came,” she told The Student, “there was definitely some difficulty [with PPE]…not really many people knew what they were doing,”.
Originally, Vaishnavi and her colleagues were told to wear goggles, which were subsequently deemed unsafe and replaced with visors.
Jade, who is a clinical support worker in an Edinburgh psychiatric hospital, described the PPE she had to wear all the time as “incredibly uncomfortable.” In addition to this, the mental health conditions of the patients in the hospital meant that “enforcing social distancing was close to impossible.”
However, Jade said that despite these challenges, she feels that the hospital has done a “brilliant job” in containing the spread of the virus.
Alexa, who took on work during the pandemic as a hospital bank receptionist, talked about the increasingly strict protections that were put in place. She noted that face coverings were not compulsory when she started working but became the norm in more and more situations, until all staff were mandated to wear face covering. Patients were also encouraged to wear masks if this did not cause them distress.
For her own part, Alexa said that she felt well protected from the virus, as she was behind a screen and at a distance from patients.
The Student also asked Vaishnavi, Jade and Alexa what they thought of the “Clap for Carers”, which took place for 10 weeks from late March – did they feel moved by it? Or did they feel it was a bit of an empty show of solidarity? All three students appreciated it, but only to a certain extent.
Vaishnavi said it was great, “but after a while it felt a bit tokenistic, it felt a bit weird…I’m glad that people did it, but I think after a while people were just doing it for the sake of it.”
Jade said it was a nice gesture, but “rather performative”, and noted that though the virus added extra challenges, she and her colleagues were “just going to work and doing our usual jobs. Our lives had actually changed less than most others.”
She said that she was particularly frustrated to see certain politicians with a record of underfunding the NHS “stand on their doorsteps and clap when they have the ability to actually make a change but just don’t.”
Similarly, Alexa described the gesture as “very moving”, but said, “I do think we need to do much more…I am a firm believer in a pay-rise for medical staff especially nurses after the pandemic. It was a very nice gesture, but I think much more could’ve been done.”
In terms of the University’s response, Vaishnavi and Jade were both underwhelmed by how the pandemic has been dealt with.
Vaishnavi made clear that she has good personal tutors and was easily able to obtain deadline extensions that were needed as a result of work shifts, but “the way that [the University has] handled Covid in general…has not been great…that’s a symptom of how built-in the bias is towards more privileged students.”
Jade described the support from the University for students during the pandemic as “very poor.”
Having played an important role in this frightening time, do key workers feel proud of their work? “I do feel proud to have worked during the pandemic, I really do. I’m really glad I did it, I would do it again,” Vaishnavi said.
Alexa explained that whilst she found her job rewarding, “unlike many doctors and nurses that directly treated Coronavirus patients, my life was never on the line.”
Image: Wikimedia Commons