The turn of the year is approaching and it seems to be bringing good news.
2020 might have started off as the year that was going to bring prosperity and good fortune to us all. However, it very quickly turned south in March with the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the lockdown in many countries. However, things have softened up since then and now it looks like there are reasons to be optimistic about the new year.
Even though Boris Johnson just announced a 4 weeks-long lockdown this past weekend, the situation in the UK is not as dire as it seems. Yes, cases have increased significantly since March - the latest figures show 18,950 people tested positive on Monday 2nd of November. However, for the sake of our mental health, it is important to remember that the increase in case numbers correlates to a significant increase in testing capacity. When the pandemic reached its peak in mid-April, the UK’s testing capacity was around 30,000 tests per day. Currently, the UK has the capacity of carrying out 519,770 tests per day.
Additionally, hospital admissions and mortality rates have dropped dramatically compared to what they were in mid-April. This drop comes from the fact that we now know more about the virus than we did before. Doctors have learnt more about how to treat patients, therefore, care has improved as well.
The prospect of a new lockdown might not be very nice, but, if we look at how it can have a positive impact on the UK (by controlling the spread and protecting the NHS), then we have even more reason to look forward with optimism to the turn of the year.
Still, the key to getting our lives back to normal is a vaccine. Although it doesn’t look like we’ll get one quickly, Sir Jeremy Farrar, a government scientific advisor, is optimistic that we’ll have one by the turn of the year. Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, also joins him in his optimism. Van-Tam is hopeful that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca collaboration will produce sufficient vaccines for a mass rollout at the beginning of 2021. Even more encouraging is the fact that the UK has access to a range of vaccines, including a jab being manufactured by Pfizer in Belgium of which Britain is due to receive 40m doses. Additionally, other treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies and dexamethasone, are surfacing as possible solutions to the virus. This definitely eases one’s mind and gives us a light at the end of what has felt like a very long, very tedious tunnel.
Another positive reason to look forward to the New Year is the possibility of reduced travel restrictions. A Global Travel Taskforce, led by the Department for Transport and the Department for Health in the UK, was recently launched with the aim of easing up quarantine travel restrictions. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, confirmed that they’re currently working on a ‘test & release’ system that provides one test per arriving passenger after a week of self-isolation. This means the quarantine period is likely to be reduced from current 14 days to 7 days which will help facilitate short-term student travels more efficiently. These measures, of course, exclude the countries on the safe-travel list which can travel to the UK without observing a quarantine period. The taskforce is also collaborating with other countries on the possibility of implementing a self-isolation period before traveling.
Furthermore, and to the surprise of us all, this year saw a record-breaking number of international students enrolled in UK Universities. According to UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admission Service) there was a 9% increase in the number of undergraduates coming from outside the EU and the UK coming to the UK in Autumn 2020. In fact, overall demand for higher education went up by 4% with the number of new students from disadvantaged areas in the UK also increasing. In the words of Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, “It is a great testament to the strength of our higher education sector”.
Taking all of this into account there are very good reasons to hope for a better year in 2021. Student demand remains high, UK embraces post-Covid living and vaccines are on the way. With the new year just around the corner, we won’t have to wait long.
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