While many of us were trying to enjoy Halloween under the constraints of regional restrictions, the news of a second lockdown unexpectedly entered the celebrations. For me, it was if the party had been gatecrashed by an unwanted guest. If that guest was almost three-hours late, and they were called Boris Johnson of course. Because on Saturday 31st October, he officially announced new lockdown measures for England.
From Thursday 5th of October, England will be in lockdown until Wednesday 2nd December, but there could be extensions of the lockdown come 2nd December. Overall, the new restrictions will mean that people will need to stay at home unless they; have medical concerns, are shopping for basic necessities, cannot work from home, need childcare or education and other specific scenarios. People will not be allowed to mix indoors with friends or family from separate households, except for support bubbles. A support bubble can only be formed between a single-adult household and another household of any size, as defined by the Department of Health and Social Care. However, it is possible to meet with one person from outside your household when in outdoor public places. Also, certain businesses will be closed, or face restrictions on the services they can provide. Universities, colleges and schools will remain open.
Given the threat of a death toll that exceeds the worst case scenarios, I can see how the decision was inevitable. In fact, I wasn’t particularly surprised when I heard the announcement; for the past few weeks I have been anticipating a spark, something that would remind us that we are still living through a pandemic. While other students around me seemed to be trying to build a bubble of normalcy around them, I was waiting for the bubble to pop.
Pressure had been mounting for stricter actions for a while, but last week in Felix it was argued by Imperial student Marwan Riach that further lockdowns are not the best approach. Admittedly, at the start of the pandemic, I was confused at the hesitation to enter a lockdown. However, as the lockdown continued, I became more aware of the difficulties caused by the restrictions. In the article, Riach addressed issues with vaccine production, mental health, furlough and unemployment. Concerns I think are valid and widely shared, so I can understand the reluctance. The new lockdown restrictions aim to save lives, but this approach will not be a strictly positive change for all members of our society. I personally support the lockdown, but I also understand that it is not the perfect solution. This lockdown will impact different sections of society differently. Even though it aims to protect everyone from COVID- 19, it seems the blanket lockdown approach will not accommodate everyone.
Clearly, there are other Imperial students who did not want a second lockdown. By now, this should be apparent to anyone who follows Imperial Secrets. So, I was curious to know what other students thought about the decision. Therefore, I created a survey, to which 47 people responded. I asked 9 questions, and the results have been compiled below. The sample size is clearly too small to be representative of all Imperial students, but I found that the honest written responses presented a valuable awareness into the consequences the lockdown will have for some students.
The majority of respondents agreed with the decision, but just over a quarter did not. Despite the division presented, in later questions it became apparent that most respondents shared the same feelings of frustration.
The spike for ‘probably yes’ is clear, but so is the fact that 23.4% of respondents were uncertain about the effectiveness. Followed by the 21.28% who selected ‘probably not’. These responses pointed to a lack of optimism that was present across all the following questions.
It seems that the news didn’t catch too many by surprise.
Over half of respondents agreed with the current decision by the government to keep universities open. Just over a quarter disagreed, with the rest stating they ‘had no opinion’. Maybe the desire to remain open is out of concern for the potential disruption to education, or maybe some want to cling onto the little social life they still have.
This question gave students the opportunity to select their feeling on a slider scale from ‘very angry’ to ‘very happy’. Only 1 person said they were ‘very happy’, followed by only 3 for ‘happy’. Although this reflects what I had observed among friends and family, I was still surprised at how negative the response was. At the same time, I do struggle to imagine that there would be overwhelming elation. University is expected to be a social experience, as well as an educational one of course, but COVID-19 has restricted a lot of freedoms since March.
It seems that despite the uncertainty around the exodus of students around the Christmas holiday, most respondents, except one, do not intend to willingly return home right now.
Q7. HOW WILL THE COMING LOCKDOWN AFFECT PARTS OF YOUR LIFE? (E.G. DAILY ROUTINE, RELATIONSHIPS, WELLBEING)
These responses provided explanations for why there was a common feeling of discontent. Across the sample, students seemed to share concerns around the effects of the lockdown on wellbeing, mental health, relationships and work.
On the topic of wellbeing, many felt that the lockdown would cause a dip in their mental health and wellbeing. It became apparent to me that the restrictions, coupled with the current state of remote learning, will leave some students feeling isolated. One student said that they expect to “feel lonely”, citing the fact they already have little social interactions, and they thought their mental health would take a decline. Some felt their work-life balance would become a struggle to manage, which is already a challenge for most Imperial students.
It was apparent that the likelihood of increased screen time and reduced face-to-face interactions have most reeling in anger. Suprisingly, there were a small number of respondents who were impartial or saw a silver lining in the dark cloud. One student said they have been living in a “personal lockdown” under the belief that most people should have been venturing outside for essentials only. Another saw this lockdown as an opportunity to spend more time to “work and concentrate on studies”. Of course, students have been living under restrictions since the start of term so it is no surprise that one student claimed that they would see little change as they “barely leave the house most days anyways”. With another student responding with “not very much” since their course is online anyway.
Concerns around maintaining romantic relationships were also abundant. One student in a long-distance relationship that spans “several countries” said that they felt little motivation to endure this month.
The financial consequences of a second lockdown were also a concern for some of the 47 respondents. One student recognised that they personally weren’t affected by the news, but since it is not good for their family’s financial situation it will negatively impact them regardless. Another student shared they expected a reduced income, stating that “furlough only covers 80% of an average”.
Fitness was another popular topic, it was clear for those who regularly work out, the lockdown poses a hindrance to their fitness. Someone said that the closure of gyms would “destroy their daily routine”, another held out hope that sports will stay on but they also expressed a hopelessness at the removal of the freedoms that make their “life worth living”. I think the latter emphasies the role physical activity plays in the wellbing for quite a large faction of our student population. Although I cannot relate to the sports culture, I can see how the news will be a big blow to those who already had to go months without the gym in the first lockdown. That being said, there was an ambigous respone of “no more gym!!!”, which I still cannot decipher as a positive or negative reaction.
The impact of a second lockdown on daily routines for most students ranged quite a bit. It is important to keep in mind that not all students live in student accommodation and for respondents who fitted into this category, some expressed a frustration at the quality of their work environment. One person said that they expect their home environment to become “more hectic” if family members end up staying home instead of going to work or school. For one respondent it seems to be the restriction on simple, everyday things, like buying paper, that they will miss. They also expressed slight despair at the confinement of a world that only exists “inside the four walls of your flat”.
“Pret” also came up as a major concern for two respondents, but I think Pret is a bit overrated anyway so I will not delve into that.
Q8. AS A STUDENT, DO YOU THINK THE STRICTER MEASURES WILL NEGATIVELY OR POSITIVELY IMPACT YOUR STUDIES?
The majority felt that the lockdown would have a negative impact. For most of these students, it seems that the removal of their social interactions or daily routines will destabilise their general wellbeing to the point where they will struggle to focus on studies. I think this is pretty understandable, as a mechanical engineering student, I know how easy it can be to fall into the trap of spending every minute of every day on work. I try very hard to avoid that trap, as do many people I know. However, soon the opportunities to take time away with friends or family will be very limited.
I can also imagine that for 1st year students, the news couldn’t be more anti-climatic for a cohort who so far have not experienced the true fresher experience.
There were a few who felt the positive however, and those that elaborated on their stance shared a hope that lockdown would improve productivity. One student said they will have more time to sleep which may in turn benefit their progress, at the same time they reckoned that they may end up being less productive than they hope.
There were a few who were neutral, stating that lockdown would make little difference to their current remote learning.
Q9. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH THE UK GOVERNMENT’S DECISION, WHAT ACTION(S) WOULD YOU HAVE PREFERRED?
I was honestly slightly surpised at the volume of suggestions in response to this question. I think I expected more people to think lockdown was the only way to go given the projections. For these respondents though, they seem to be aware of the severity of the situation facing us, its just that they would rather other rigorous actions were taken.
Some of the respondents clarified that they agree with the lockdown, but expressed that there could be more thought given to other solutions. For example, one person said that they agree with the move but think long-term measures such as “regular, targeted testing” should be employed to avoid the possibility of multiple lockdowns. Another student expressed more discontent with the management of the COVID-19 response, stating that the government is incompetent for letting cases rise to the stage they are “without ‘real’ interventions”.
There were a few other students who agreed with the lockdown but disagreed with the conditions under which it was placed. Three students reckoned that the lockdown decision came too late, with one elaborating on their stance by saying that university students should not have returned to campus. This respondent also echoed the thoughts of another who argued that a circuit breaker lockdown should have been enforced when SAGE recommended so in September.
Although universities and schools will remain open, which is a move most of the respondents supported, one argued that the move is unjustified since transmission rates are “too high to be ignored”.
Some respondents pointed to the approaches taken in other countries; Sweden, China and Slovakia specifically.
Most respondents pointed to stricter enforcement of shielding, social distancing and regional restrictions as opposed to a national lockdown.
In summary, I believe most understand why the second lockdown is happening, but the exasperation and anger are tangible. So, I think that this month will be one of intense anticipation.