Written by Laura Lees
I remember the moment the first nationwide lockdown was announced – sat with my flatmates in the living room of my uni house, eating takeaway Chinese and drinking. The few seconds of stunned silence after the announcement – and before our phones began ringing with our frantic parents on the other end – will stay with me for a long time to come.
As a student and resident of Leicester, lockdown hasn’t ended for me yet. In an area that has seen strict restrictions for 150 days, I haven’t been able to give my grandad a hug since I returned home from a holiday in back in February. He was then shielding, as a man over 80, alone in his home for 19 weeks. We spent weeks waving through windows and shouting Love you’s from the pavement to his doorway. He did learn how to use FaceTime and Zoom during the first lockdown, and now with some restrictions eased, he can visit my auntie and cousins. Abiding by the bubble system, he is a member of my auntie’s household and not mine, and even though all of our houses are within 2 minutes walking distance of each other, my family and I had to stay away from them.
The change was hard for me – my sudden reappearance in my family home was a shock to my system (and my family’s too!) as I hadn’t lived there since I began my studies at the University of Leicester in 2018. As the academic year restarted in September, my sister moved out to go to university, and within 3 weeks most of her accommodation block, including her own flat, had contracted COVID-19.
The restrictions have changed life for a lot of us. My 21st birthday was in a form of lockdown too – I had planned to have a party with friends outside, abiding by the lockdown rules at the time, but the Rule of 6 came in with just weeks to go. I ended up doing a Zoom quiz with my family to protect my usually close-knit family, particularly my grandad and cousin with severe asthma. There was a weird sense of sadness as they sung happy birthday to me over Zoom, everyone being off beat and glitching.
My friends at university have had time out of such restrictions in their own cities. They consoled me when the local lockdown was announced in Leicester, some joining me in the city once the academic year began and some choosing to do remote learning. Most of them have been in and out of self-isolation, knowing people who had COVID and some even testing positive themselves.
Sitting in the chill of Victoria Park, socially distanced, we talk about going home for the festive season. They’re worried about Christmas, returning home and putting their families at risk. The new rules out about Christmas Bubbles are doing little to ease their nerves, rather exacerbating them as families aim to be together with their elderly relatives too. This has left some electing to remain in their university homes and celebrating Christmas with flatmates or beginning to isolate this week to make sure they’re safe to return to their hometowns. The tier system announced means many of them now live in areas with similar restrictions as Leicester has had for so long.
And now, as I sit in my bedroom on my first online seminar of the day, I wonder how the world can go back to normal from this. Would people work in offices and shared desks as they used to? Would students sit in university lecture theatres without sanitising everything they touch? When will these restrictions end? What will Christmas look like?
I asked my own parents this evening about our plans for Christmas. Would we be bubbling with other households? Would I be able to see my cousins?
And when would I finally be able to give my grandad a hug?
They didn’t have an answer for me.
Laura Lees is a final year English student and resident of South Leicester