The U.K.’s response to COVID
Current and former U.K. residents discuss effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
While FUHSD students face their third month of remote learning, many schools in the United Kingdom (U.K.) reopened in late August. London resident Marcus Chae, who relocated to the area two months ago from Manchester, credits the government’s prioritization of in-person academics for his relatively early return to campus.
“One thing that England [has] really tried to do is keep schools open as much as possible,” Chae said. “They barely want schools to close, and that’s one thing they’ve been consistent on. And then if we go back [to] the start of this whole pandemic … England went into lockdown pretty late.”
Chae explains that even though the U.K. was pushing to keep schools open, they still enforced three “tiers” of lockdowns at the start of the pandemic, each more restrictive than the last.
“London is currently [in] tier two, which means we can see groups of up to six [people] outside,” Chae said. “We can’t meet inside, we can only meet in schools. Tier three seems a lot stricter. Manchester’s in tier three … and they can barely do anything. It’s a proper lockdown over there.”
The reopening of U.K. schools has been a part of a larger concerted effort to pull the country out of lockdown, with academics being one of the areas on which the government has relaxed regulations, even as Prime Minister of the U.K. Boris Johnson announced new and tougher general restrictions for the months to come.
While stricter guidelines were released in late September, Chae believes the enforcement of those guidelines is weak. According to Chae, it is normal to see groups of people disregarding social distancing guidelines, especially in public areas like restaurants.
“You still see people from multiple households meeting in restaurants, and that’s one place where people [in positions of power] can stop people [from] meeting, because you have to walk into a restaurant,” Chae said. “If people are entering other people’s households when they’re not supposed to, that’s more difficult to enforce because you can’t just have people knock on your door and ask, ‘How many people are in here?’”
This lack of enforcement can even be seen in the aforementioned school campuses, according to Senior and former Cupertino resident Oliver Still states that his campus does not require students or staff to wear masks. Although Still’s Lincolnshire school operates on a bubble system in order to limit physical interaction between students from different grade levels, he believes that this method may not be the most effective.
The bubble system designates a section of the school, a “bubble,” for students from each grade level to take all of their classes in, while teachers are required to move throughout the isolated “bubbles” to teach their classes. These measures were put in place to ensure lower levels of student traffic and physical interaction around the school, but according to Still, student crowding is inevitable.
“I did try wearing a mask in the hallways … for the first few days, but it became too difficult,” Still said. “And in the end, when you’re inside the classrooms, you have such close contact [with others] that it kind of [defeats the purpose of wearing masks] in the hallways. Despite the bubble systems, the hallways are really crowded anyways.”
Chae follows similar guidelines and restrictions outdoors, saying that he is still able to see friends in-person after school, and must wear masks when walking through school halls and entering any shops or restaurants.
Junior Ameya Joshi, who lived and went to school in the U.K. for four years before coming to the U.S., says that a difference between U.K. and MVHS school culture may have influenced the two countries’ opinions about reopening schools.
“There was a lot more focus on social interactions [in the U.K.], while here [at MVHS], it’s just all about academics,” Joshi said. “There’s some form of [social life at MVHS] but [it’s] not as important as [it was] in the U.K. I’m assuming the people [in Cupertino] are not as badly affected by [social] distancing as [people from] where I lived [in the U.K.].”
Joshi adds that differences in the U.K.’s geography compared to the U.S. may lead to complications during quarantine throughout the country.
“Because the U.K. has blocked access to multiple ports and other industries that … weren’t imports from China, … it was hard for them to sustain [themselves] as they’re [a] very small island and require imports and exports to keep their economy flowing,” Joshi said. “So their economy took a harder crash than other self-sufficient countries.”
Chae claims he hasn’t felt any major effects from quarantine and COVID-19 while living in the U.K., and he trusts in his government’s ability to keep the pandemic under control in the country.
“I think they are following science, and I think they are trying to do their best,” Chae said. “Obviously, they don’t want to fail, so I’m pretty confident we’ll get through it. I think we’ve passed the first big wave. I think we’re under rise to hit a second wave. But I think the government will get through it … whether it’s the best way they’re going to get through or the most effective way, I’m unsure.”
Still agrees that regardless of the U.K.’s current condition dealing with the COVID pandemic, they won’t be out of the woods for some time, and that restrictions of some sort will likely remain.
“It depends really, I think the pandemic will be around until the vaccines are made, but I can’t speak for how the government’s acting,” Still said. “I think they’ve said it will go on for another six months at least. I suspect it could go on even further in this year having some form of lockdown or not lockdown. They might choose to lower restrictions as time goes on, whether or not that’s the right decision.”