Not Allowing Students to Return Home for Christmas Will be a Terrible Mistake

Grace McGrory

It'll (not) be over by Christmas

(Image: Two Travelling Texans)

Step aside Scrooge – the real humbug this year takes the form of an actual bug – a global pandemic, in fact. 

With rates rising across the country and a second lockdown beginning on Thursday, it is clear that Christmas 2020 will not be the same festive period known and loved by all. However, for students across the country, the thought of being isolated in student accommodation this Christmas is a present that no one wants to receive. 

And, according to Mind.org, 73% of students reported a decline in their mental health during the first lockdown – so the potential consequences of this festive restriction could be even more devastating.  

Whilst media attention is currently concentrated upon the scapegoating of university students, the reality behind this discourse shows lonely young people away from home for the first time. For them, the possibility of not being able to spend the holidays with loved ones, even if it is just one immediate household, is something which has the potential to be incredibly damaging. 

Many students will have gone from being surrounded by the household they spent lockdown with every day, to not seeing them for an entire term- or longer. Ten weeks for someone struggling with their mental health seems like a lifetime, and for many has been intensified by factors such as self-isolation, physical health implications, and the ban upon the mixing of households indoors as a result of York’s Tier 2 status.  

Speaking to The Guardian around a month ago, education secretary Gavin Williamson proposed his intentions to co-ordinate with universities and develop strategies that would allow students to return home for the holidays. 

However, the situation has dramatically changed since then – as not only are threats of banning students from returning home still circulating in the media, but now the start of a second national lockdown, if extended beyond 2 December, will inevitably overlap with the end of terms. 

Understandably, many students themselves will be feeling anxious about potentially taking the virus back home with them; there have been suggestions to overcome this, including an optional fortnight of self-isolation, along with testing promptly before travelling, and whilst the situation is changing daily, I know personally I will struggle with the choices I will have to make if students are allowed to return home. 

Students are now stuck between a rock and a hard place – the decision of potentially sacrificing our mental health in order to ensure our families’ safety, or facing the consequences if we were to return home and begin to show symptoms is not an easy decision. For people with members of their primary household of a high-risk status, I cannot imagine the further complexity of this already difficult decision. 

Being a student in a global pandemic is hard. Being a student in a global pandemic, suffering with mental illnesses is even harder. With a constant fear of the unknown, what we, as students need, is clarity. Clarity on what we can do, clarity on what we can’t do, and clarity on what we can do but what we will be criticised for doing anyway. As we were initially blamed for the spike in cases at the beginning of term, will this happen again? 

What is certain, however, is that coronavirus will not be over by Christmas.

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