This is what it’s like being one of the thousands of students locked down in halls right now

‘I’ve only seen two people in two weeks’

Thousands of students across the country are self-isolating in their halls, in a situation basically everyone saw coming. It’s not just the highly-publicised fiascos in Glasgow and Manchester. As more and more freshers return, the situation repeats itself again and again, all across the country.

Outside the confines of these halls there are security guards, political rows, and delivery drivers trying to push supplies under gates. Inside, those who’ve ended up unable to leave have found a rite of passage turned into disappointment and loneliness.

Worse, like two of the students The Tab spoke to for this article, plenty have ended up testing positive for Covid. This is what it’s like being one of the thousands of students locked down in halls right now.

‘I’ve only seen two people in two weeks’

Jasmine McNamara, a fashion marketing fresher at Leeds Beckett, tells me she’s only seen two people in-person since she moved in two weeks ago – someone in a lift, and one of her flatmates.

It’s not the Freshers’ Jasmine, who’s sociable and likes a drink, expected. In her flat of four, all three other housemates have tested positive for Covid and gone home, leaving Jasmine alone in a new city.

Jasmine in more normal times

“It’s going up in the building like wildfire,” Jasmine says. However, she isn’t learning about this from the company which runs her halls: “We only know because of a group chat we created ourselves on Facebook.”

Of particular concern to Jasmine is her severe asthma: “As the week goes on, less and less people are abiding by the rules.”

When we speak, the signal in her room is bad. She’s able to move around to find a good spot only because everyone else has left. “Yesterday, I had a phone call from my flatmate to say she’s tested positive in the room next to me. And we had our teas together the night before,” she says.

Jasmine enjoying Freshers’ now

“It’s just me so I’ve had to completely deep clean the flat so I can leave my room. As soon as I found out she had it I didn’t leave my room. I’m just confined to my room because the virus is going around.

“I’m not upset to be here on my own. But it’s more I feel uncomfortable in a different city on my own.

“I literally can’t see anybody. I’m in a new city on my own. I can’t see friends I’ve made. I feel uncomfortable doing a food shop.”

If she knew what was going to happen, Jasmine wouldn’t have come up to halls. “The uni seemed really optimistic,” about face to face teaching, she says. “That’s the only reason I accepted my tenancy because I was told there was going to be some face to face, so I thought that’s worth it.”

After paying rent, Jasmine’s student loan only leaves her with £600 to last now until January. Next term, it’ll be a spare £8.

“Ideally, I wouldn’t really want to ‘leave leave’, because it’s been this big build up to moving out. Ideally, I’d like to get my money back, but I’ve signed this tenancy.

Hours after we spoke on the phone, Jasmine sent me a text to say she’d tested positive. Her building has gone from 0 cases to 22 in just four days, with more suspected, she says. Jasmine plans to self-isolate and then move home. “I feel totally in danger here and I feel it is inevitable that I will catch it again.”

‘So far it’s been lonely and confusing’

Like Jasmine, Newcastle fresher Emilie has only heard about cases in her private halls from other students.

Four flats in the building have Covid – that Emilie knows about – and while we’re speaking she gets a Snapchat from a friend in another flat, saying they’re self-isolating due to a positive test.

The result has been a Freshers’ full of confusion, fear, and a sense of isolation.

“I looked forward to uni for so long and feel so disappointed,” she tells me. “I have no other first years in my flat and for the first week I had one international flatmate so the language barrier prevented communication.

“I was going to go to a bar tonight but I’ve told my friends I’d rather stay in until I feel less anxious.”

Emilie sends a picture of her view, adding that she’s worried it’s all she’ll see for the next six months. It’s hardly one of Newcastle’s better vistas.

“So far it’s been lonely and confusing,” she says of her Freshers’ experience. “There’s no way to meet new people really so it’s quite isolating.”

Stuck in halls, unable to meet new people, and unsure just what’s going to happen, Emilie has found the impact profound. “My mental health has definitely plummeted. Before coming I was much less anxious and not in a depressed state. I’d come off medication for my mental health and been great but I’m considering going back on it,” she says. “I know others have text to say they feel similar.”

Having been through a pandemic where young people have been ignored, economically hit, and then actively sabotaged by A-level results day, Emilie is keen to keep a sense of proportion. The frustration and lack of control, however, are palpable. “After the grades fiasco I’m lucky to have gotten into a uni so don’t want to be too negative. I wish I knew the government’s and unis’ plans for the future though,” she says.

To try and salvage something from the end of the year, Emilie is considering isolating then moving home.

‘One of my flatmates went out a lot so I couldn’t help but catch it’

Lucy, a film fresher at Leeds, tells me: “It was such a bad idea to send students back into uni because obviously this was going to happen.”

She’d have more of an idea of the disaster it’s been than most armchair commentators – after her and her flatmates all tested positive, she’s isolating in her flat.

“I didn’t really go out, but as I was in a flat with someone who did go out a lot I couldn’t help catch it,” she said.

This was never going to be a Freshers’ of sweaty clubs and big parties, but Lucy had at least wanted to join some sports societies and meet some people from her course. That hasn’t happened. “I came to university on the 19th, spent a week very upset and lonely because it is so hard to make friends this year without any events and clubs,” she said.

Lucy echoes the frustration of many – that she wants to head home but is stuck in a housing contract: “It’s also just annoying because the uni won’t let me stop paying rent and go home to work from there. I am tied into the contract so I’m a bit stuck.”

Unhappy with the way your uni’s handled Covid-19? Email us with your stories by contacting [email protected]

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