University students across China are starting a new semester with anxiety — not over academic life, but austere coronavirus-related measures.
Many schools across the country have announced strict COVID-19 curbs in regulating students’ movements in and outside campuses to prevent possible outbreaks. These include regular coronavirus testing and distancing from the outside world.
At Shanghai University, students are not allowed to leave the campus area “unless necessary” and need to fill an application each time they leave. For many students in the city, such restrictions have evoked familiar feelings from the spring, when they were locked within the university premises for months as the city tried to contain its worst outbreak.
“I would move out again to continue my internship if the curbs continue,” Wang Mengmeng, a 24-year-old master’s student at the school, told Sixth Tone.
Students say such rules are excessive, when the city has reported just a handful of cases in the past month. Earlier this month, the country’s top education authority also restricted higher education institutions from imposing additional curbs on students coming from “low-risk” areas with no COVID cases, asking schools to implement “more convenient” mechanisms instead.
However, many universities have instead announced stricter controls as new and highly transmissible coronavirus subvariants continue to be found in many areas. Such controls usually include frequent testing and a “closed loop” management system for up to 14 days, without promising when such measures would end.
Wang said that her campus even set a 10-minute limit for commuting within different areas of the school, or have their college codes turn red that would require them to reapply for entry again. Those who have visited a hospital must undergo a three-day “health observation” at designated spots before re-entering their dorms.
At the Jiaying University in southern Guangdong province, students are being barred from leaving the campus even on weekends, according to Zhong Yurou, an undergraduate student. She said the restrictions have wiped out almost all of their entertainment activities.
“We will have no delicious meals, no movies, and no other entertainment on weekends since none of these will constitute a proper reason for leaving the campus,” she said.
Several universities have even postponed when term will start due to the sporadic flare-up of COVID cases lately, according to media reports. In the past week, China logged over 10,000 local cases across at least 20 provinces and regions.
The stringent policies have unnerved students hoping to start a fresh semester, with many complaining on social media. Students also mourned the loss of a “normal” college experience that has been redefined by the pandemic over the past two years.
“I have so many dreams and plans to fulfill in college, and now I have to worry about the possibility of going home,” Madina, a student from Shanghai International Studies University who only gave her first name, told Sixth Tone. “The pandemic just robbed me of most of my youth.”
Meanwhile, not everyone seemed opposed to the restrictions on campus, supporting schools that have been adapting to the “new normal.”
“The pandemic could also mean the beginning of a new type of college life,” Zhang Luyao, another student from Shanghai International Studies University, said. “I will still strive to make the most of college life without having any regrets.”
Additional reporting: Li Cathy; editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Students starts their new semester at Nanchang University, Jiangxi province, Aug. 27, 2022. Liu Zhankun/CNS/VCG)