Last week, the first national Covid press conference in just over a month was held, in which the newly appointed and less adulterous Health Secretary Sajid Javid made clear to the public that we were ‘a lot closer to normal than we were a few months ago’. Reading this on the 8.30am commuter train to Temple Meads I couldn’t help but agree to some point, it was the first time I had to stand in a carriage aisle in 18 months – there were no seats left. Sure to say it was not one of the features I had missed about pre-lockdown life. Little to my surprise however, both Javid and I were far from the truth. In fact, Covid-19 hospital admissions have increased by almost 4,000 since the summer, and one in five beds in intensive care units are now being used to treat critical Covid patients. Yet whilst the NHS has been for much of its existence a service always undervalued, underfunded and on the brink of crisis, for waiting times for a bed to go into the days and the military being called in for support, I have begun to question the Government’s understanding of ‘normal’.
Conservative and laissez faire action over a long period of time has solidified the Government’s position, a rehash after rehash of keeping calm and carrying on seems all too familiar. However, even within their own ranks is their conflict that questions whether anything at all will be done over the winter period to stop another potential spike. Whilst Javid is under the impression things are going back to normal, he has also actively encouraged fellow MPs to wear masks in busy parliamentary sessions, yet the general consensus of the Conservative Government seems to be far from mask loving. This no more so apparent than when fellow Conservative, Boris Johnson, only last week in an exhibition hall for the COP26 conference (where masks are still mandatory in Scotland) sat next to Sir David Attenborough, surprise surprise, mask less.
What it means for University is really still an unanswered question, and by the current competency of the Government, it seems a question that won’t be answered any time soon. Countries such as Israel have already proved that an effective roll out of booster jabs can subside a spike in cases. However, this is reliant on an effective distribution of jabs and whilst so far, the roll out has been highly successful, the delay in vaccines for teenagers and wasted vaccines bought have questioned this abundantly. What it does mean is that the likelihood of there being any change in policy both for University and on a wider scale currently looks like a fruitless thought from Government officials. Looking back at the first lockdown, Bath along with many other Universities were some of the first institutions to make their own rules, regulating the number of students allowed into lectures and then going online completely. The travel window, whilst not enforced by law, was also decided amongst senior members of management in an attempt to control the spread of the virus over the holiday season. A similar set up this year doesn’t seem unlikely if Number 10 continues the way they are going.
Yet, the question is not whether the Government should implement Covid measures, the answer is yes. An NHS with rising covid rates, dwindling beds and a harsh winter inbound, the moral answer is unquestionable. Instead, it becomes a question of will the Government implement them. For Javid and Johnson it seems much easier to look at the statistics of rising cases with their heads buried in the sand, back to normal seems normal for them, but for others a grim and quite real reality still is just around the corner. Either way universities will probably be left to their own digression, as they have in the past in nearly every stage of the pandemic, to make their own decision on what to do. I haven’t asked for an official statement about Covid policy though, so it may be worth asking your Director of studies or someone, they should know, probably.