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Coronavirus and Fresher’s Week — how can they co-exist?

With the number of COVID-19 related cases rising in the past few weeks, the UK government introduced new restrictions on social gatherings. At the same time, most UK universities plan to go ahead with their Fresher’s week plans with some activities scheduled online, but some in person.

New rules regarding the COVID-19 pandemic include the ‘rule of six’ meaning that social gatherings of more than six people have come into effect. The rules apply to both indoor and outdoor gatherings, to both people in private homes as much as to people in pubs, restaurants and public outdoor spaces. The new rules are introduced as the UK’s R number started rising again and is now between 1 and 1.2 for the first time since March. People who ignore the rule and proceed with their planned gatherings of more than 6 people could be fined £100 — doubling with each offence to a maximum of £3,200.

What is the R number?

source: BBC

The R number stands for the reproduction number and it measures how many people an infected person passes on to. So for example if the R number is 15, then one person can spread the disease to 15 other people.

If the R number is higher than 1 then the growth of cases becomes exponential, or in other words, it starts the snowball rolling. Of all regions in England, Midlands currently have the lowest rate — between 0.9 and 1.1.

The rule of six

You must be wondering now how are you supposed to attend lectures if there can’t be more than six people in the room. There are obviously some exemptions from the ‘rule of six’, and one of them is education.

“Under the new rules, larger gatherings are still allowed at gyms, schools, places of worship, weddings and funerals. Education and work settings are not affected.” — BBC

Gatherings with less than 6 people rule starts today 14/09/2020 // source: Pexels

While most universities are planning the mix method approach, with some of the lectures being delivered in person and some online, in-person teaching will still have a few rules to adhere to, such as social distancing, regular cleaning of lecture halls and possible windows open during lectures.

Is Fresher’s week an exemption?

With Fresher’s week becoming a small-scale festival, but traditionally part of British Higher Education and organized by Student’s Unions, it’s quite hard to predict what is going to happen with in-person activities. But, Student Unions are classed as a charity and exempt from the rule of six. They can legally offer ‘COVID safe’ events by distancing groups and by introducing alternative measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Some universities already presented their Fresher’s week programme with few activities being scheduled online, but the question remains — should the in person activities still go forward?

source: Pexels

Fresher’s week gather thousands of students from all over the world, excited for their new starts and the journey ahead. While symbolising the beginning of a new chapter in young people’s lives, Fresher’s week at this point poses a great risk at the same time.

Some scientists, including the World Health Organization (WHO) urge young people to help control the spread of coronavirus, especially now with the R number rising each and every day. There are also initiatives to move complete Fresher’s week online in order to prevent COVID-19 outbreak and even to test every student. However, mandatory testing is not included in the Department for Education’s guidance for universities reopening.

We must not forget that young people still need to socialise and that the time spent on campus is the right time to make new friends and have fun:

“While HE providers should communicate to students the importance of adopting safe behaviours generally, HE providers should also, where possible, support their students to socialise in Covid-secure environments (for example campus bars, Student Unions) and should identify safer social activities for students. You might do this in collaboration with your Student Union. We are aware of the planning already underway for Freshers’ events that provide Covid-secure entertainment activities in ways that comply with public health guidance.” — Jim Dickinson, WONKHE

We want to know what you think! Are you attending the Fresher’s week? Do you think it should be cancelled and moved online? Let us know how you feel about new restrictions on our social media!

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