Driving home for Christmas? Isolate and you might be able to
Sophie Porteous explores the possible shortcomings of the UK government’s proposed plan for students in December so they can travel home for Christmas.
Empty shelves and panicked calls from parents. These scenes, reminiscent of mid-March may soon be repeated if the government implement their proposed quarantine for students who wish to spend Christmas at home. The pre-Christmas quarantine, suggested for the 8th–22nd December, does seem logical; everyone isolates, and then they should be safe to travel across the country back to their families in the knowledge that they aren’t bringing back an unwanted virus as a Christmas gift. For those studying in high or very high risk areas hoping to travel home to an area of relatively low case numbers, this may seem like the safest option. Yet, when considered more carefully, there are numerous issues with this plan.
Nationwide, universities are already being criticised for their lack of support for students isolating in halls. Students have chastised the cost and quality of food, with some likening living in halls to an ‘expensive prison’. If universities are struggling to feed the small proportion of students isolating in university-owned accommodation, imagine the chaos that could occur if every single student were forced to quarantine. Food delivery slots would be fully booked, and shelves would likely be emptied again, meaning that both students and residents of the local community could end up going without. Moreover, the detrimental effects that lockdown and isolation have on mental health is beginning to become abundantly clear. Forcing students inside for two weeks so that they can spend Christmas with their loved ones could have severe consequences. Universities would have to put a functional and effective support system in place for students, something which seems unlikely to be achieved.
Universities would have to put a functional and effective support system in place for students, something which seems unlikely to be achieved
Faced with the prospect of two weeks locked inside, many students may understandably decide to return home before the quarantine begins. Indeed, how the government expects universities to enforce these rules is unclear. Universities and the local police are already struggling to stop a minority of people from breaking the soft lockdown in Exeter, and although some students have been fined or suspended, it is safe to assume that others have broken the rules under the radar. Keeping tens and thousands of students in their houses for two weeks will be no easy feat.
When talking in the House of Commons about students returning home for Christmas, the Secretary for Education Gavin Williamson reassured students and their families that “all youngsters who want to be able return home will be able to do so, but what we will look at is … where there are specific cases.” This perhaps suggests that not all students would have to isolate, yet this could then cause further issues. Are those who are in the same bubble as someone who is forced to quarantine expected to isolate too? Why should some members of the student body have to quarantine when their peers might not? Enforcing the rules would be significantly harder if this were to be the case, and students may end up feeling targeted if only those from specific areas must isolate.
The isolation before returning home may force numerous international students to miss out on the festive period entirely
The government also seem to have a complete disregard for international students. With many already having quarantined for two weeks before starting university, forcing them to quarantine for two weeks before they leave, and then no doubt making them quarantine on their return may give international students nearly a month of isolation (that is if we assume that they don’t have to isolate when they return to their home country). If enforced, the isolation before returning home may force numerous international students to miss out on the festive period entirely.
However, the plan for quarantining all students is still in the works, and so we must hope for now that the government devises a sensible solution – otherwise we could be spending Christmas in isolation.