STUDENTS across the country are experiencing a different kind of freshers’ week filled with uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the North-East’s university cities subject to local lockdown, The Northern Echo spoke to students in Durham following the arrival of thousands of undergraduates.
One university student, Ethan Williams, from Texas, said he was anxious about being stuck in the region thousands of miles away from his family if cases continue to raise.
The 20-year-old said: “I debated staying in the US because of the virus but didn’t want to miss out on my education. I know the cases are rising quite rapidly here so I’m definitely cautious. I feel safe because I know I’m taking all the precautions like wearing a mask and sanitising my hands but I am worried that I won’t be able to go home for Christmas.”
Third year student, Zoe Varney, from Oxford, said: “I’m ‘frepping’ at college this week so we’ve been preparing for freshers’ week mainly online. Social distancing has been adhered to and everyone moved in fine but I’m concerned about having to spend Christmas here. I’m hoping that the Government will make exceptions for mental health and other medical reasons if it gets worse.”
The 20-year-old said she feels safe at the university and said measures are in place to protect students, adding: “I feel safe at the moment because there are rules but I think they need to be on it with tracking and tracing the freshers moving here.”
Local lockdown measures in place in the city include bars closing at 10pm.
Concerns have been raised however from permanent residents about ‘super spreaders’ congregating at house parties in the densely populated student areas of Durham.
Another Durham University student, Tom Bowers, 22, from Macclesfield, said: “I’m volunteering to help with freshers’ week and am a little concerned about people coming here with the virus and it harming people in the community I also fear it damaging community/student relations because there is already a lot of tension and I don’t want it to get worse.”
Fellow freshers’ week volunteer, Marlo Avidon, 20, from New Jersey, said: “Our freshers are doing a very good job of sticking to the 72-hour lockdown when they arrive here and all of our friends who are returning are being very good and very responsible. I think the big thing that we’re worried about is everybody coming in and the chance somebody has something causing things to shut down.”
Ewan Swift, welfare and liberation officer at Durham Students’ Union said: “Many students coming to Durham, either for the first time or to continue their degrees, want to be excited to be here. They want to make the most of the opportunities on offer, experience our historic city, meet new people, and learn more about their subject. But clearly that excitement is being affected by the pandemic.
“Students are anxious and concerned about keeping themselves, their friends, their family and the community safe. Moving cities, leaving home, and starting university is often a time when young people struggle and we can only expect more students this year to find university difficult. Those who were caught up in the A Level U-turn have already experienced anxiety about whether they would even be able to study at Durham in the first place. New students are having to navigate a local lockdown with people they have never met. They might have to self-isolate away from their usual support networks with negative effects on their mental health. Students must experience all of this uncertainty, without knowing if they will be allowed home for Christmas.
“It is especially difficult for students to deal with these feelings of isolation and concern about Covid-19, while seeing young people repeatedly blamed for spreading the disease. In reality, just like across all of society, it’s a small minority that’s not taking their safety seriously. Most students just want to make the most of this year as best we can, and keep our communities and ourselves safe and well.”
Nationally there are also concerns, Holly knight, from Evenwood, has just started her first year of undergraduate study at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The 18-year-old is one of more than 100 to test positive for coronavirus at the university.
Around 1,700 of its students have been told to self-isolate including those at Birley campus where Miss Knight is based.
The teenager said: “A boy who I live with came in contact with someone who had it, so I got tested and found out I had it. In the first week I moved, there was a few house parties but not many. I don’t think anything could stop the spread because people moved from all over the country to one place to live together.”