Is it time to return to study as normal?

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The University has once again returned to in person teaching, and I must say, I am relieved. My motivation, productivity and general mental health are much better with the structure provided by in-person lectures and tutorials. The reopening of the library without having to use the dreaded booking system, also marked a rare moment of joy in the life of a law student drowning in summatives whilst attempting to write a dissertation.

Alas, despite my personal gratitude for a return to the ’new normal’ Durham, whether Durham is striking the right balance between caution and normality must be considered

Covid-19’s presence can still be felt in Durham. I personally know more people who are currently isolating with Covid-19 in Durham this week than I have potentially all academic year. However, if you look to the University’s published statistics, cases appear to be dropping. Over the past two weeks (as I am writing this article) the highest number of cases confirmed by a PCR test came on the 20th of January with 133 student and nine staff cases. The 1st of February, however, whereby the latest data is available shows just 48 student and six staff cases. There is also currently a downward trend in the seven-day-average of positive cases. This suggests that the removal of restrictions on the 24th of January did not result in cases increasing; in fact new cases have reduced relatively steadily, as has the seven-day-average.

Whilst this is controversial,I personally think the University is right

Therefore, it appears that a return to ‘normal’ was justified and on balance the right approach. It also follows the recommendation of the government and correlates with the governments reversion to plan A. This, whilst it has been criticised for being an attempt to distract from ‘partygate’, is not entirely illogical if you look at the fact that whilst cases remain high, hospitalisations and deaths have not reached the same peaks as before thanks in part to better knowledge and treatments and of course vaccinations.

However, the University has opted to retain masks, whereas England has elected to drop the compulsory mask mandate. Whilst this is controversial and I am sure some students are decrying having to wear ‘face diapers’ for a bit longer, I personally think the University is right.

Whilst deaths and hospitalisations in comparison to the number of cases is significantly lower than at other points of the pandemic, the treat of Covid-19 has not entirely disappeared. Last Thursday there was 534 coronavirus deaths, the highest amount in almost a year. That is still a significant number of deaths and something which shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

To be blunt, it is far less of a burden than having to be ventilated because of Covid-19

Durham University is also a community where masks are important to help protect those who might be vulnerable. Furthermore, we are also a university situated within a community whereby people are also likely to be vulnerable and which includes elderly people. Maintaining slightly stricter rules to benefit our and the wider community is sensible and promotes respect. After all, how much of an inconvenience is wearing a thin bit of fabric over your nose and mouth? To be blunt, it is far less of a burden than having to be ventilated because of Covid-19.

Whilst some might argue that ‘masks don’t work’, consider this: why do doctors and surgeons wear masks? Why has there been significantly fewer flu cases since masking has become routine? Why have major supermarkets such as Tesco also elected to keep masks?

As a final point the university continuing its ‘testing to partake’ policy is also wise in order to minimise the spread of infection, whilst allowing a return to as normal as possible.

Therefore, I think it is fair to say that the University’s coronavirus measures strike a fair balance in terms of giving us the best university experience possible whilst still being respectful of our, and the wider community. 

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