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Starting university during a global pandemic – everything’s basically back to normal… right?

With halls of residence going into lockdown, a lack of communication from uni authorities and rising stress levels among students, DAISY-MAE STEWART believes it was wrong for universities to forge ahead this year ‘as normal’

ON Wednesday September 9, I moved to Manchester to start my creative writing degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Obviously, amid a global pandemic, I was sceptical about making such a big decision, but, when life began to head in an upwards, “normal” direction in July and August, I felt reassured in my choice. 

I mean — they wouldn’t allow thousands of students to move into university if it wasn’t safe to do so, would they?

Actually, as it turns out, they would. 

My first two weeks here have been exactly what I had hoped for — I mean, not exactly. The sweet dream of a fun-filled, crazy “freshers” experience was quickly flattened. 

Nevertheless, with nothing to compare the traditional party week against, I’d say we managed to make the most of the situation. 

Flat parties made a quick return, some flats hosting up to 50 students in their kitchen. 

Things quickly got pretty wild, but, really, what do you expect? 

Freshers students to move to a new city and spend their time alone in prison cell rooms, adhering to social distancing measures? I mean, come on…

The buzz of excitement came to a sudden end this week as more and more students began isolating due to symptoms, positive tests or flatmates with positive tests. 

Last night, at 5pm, the accommodation halls surrounding mine were forced into lockdown. 

I walked down to the main door of my building and was greeted by a security guard who told me that my building was locking down. 

He told me I had to quickly go to the shop and buy anything that I needed. (This guy actually told me to stock up on alcohol and cigarettes, and so, obviously, I did.) 

The pressure was immense, I was literally told to run to the shop to buy anything I may need for the next two weeks. 

I won’t tell you exactly what I did panic buy, that would be purely embarrassing. 

Anyway, £40 later, I stumbled back to my flat, bags of alcohol in hand, emotionally taking in the outdoors, knowing this would be my last time outside for a couple of weeks. 

When I arrived back, I was confused to see that there was no longer a guard on my door. 

A few moments later, I found out that my building was not being locked down at all — the security man had stood at the wrong door. I was fuming, to say the least.

Tension grew higher last night, the realisation of the situation hit us all. 

We have since been preparing for the inevitable isolation we will endure in the upcoming weeks. 

All across group chats and social media stories, more and more positive cases are being posted. 

The strangest thing is reading headlines about the “Covid outbreak at Man Met.” We seem to be all over the news at the moment. 

The university has informed students that all classes will be online for the next couple of weeks. 

Even though I was only on campus one day a week, I, like most, am gutted to be restricted to online learning.

I think at the back of my mind, behind the initial excitement of moving to university, I knew that it was inevitable that a further outbreak of the virus would mean lockdown for students. 

However, the lack of communication has made things incredibly hard to navigate. 

I have heard from other accommodation buildings that information about how to do washing, how to get food and basic living needs while under forced isolation has been non-existent. 

To my understanding, residents receive an email explaining the enforcement and are then left to their own devices. 

As my own building is not yet locked, I am experiencing stress and anxiety about what the next steps are for my safety, my wellbeing and overall living situation.

Emotions are high, stress levels rising. I find it difficult to explain the exact situation and to get all of my thoughts to make sense. 

I am living in a new city, starting a new life, from a small room. Looking out over the city; unable to explore and adjust naturally. 

It’s a crazy time for everyone, but I empathise wholly with students right now. 

It seems totally barbaric to have gone ahead with university this year as “normal.” Universities are a breeding ground for illness anyway, never mind during a pandemic. 

It infuriates me to think that this many young people have been placed at risk, and to think that we could be blamed for behaving irresponsibly.

I will end on a positive note, that despite everything, I am finding the good in the chaos. 

Student life is supposed to be a challenge. We are all in this together. Here’s to students everywhere — and to hope for a better second year!

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