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UG goes along with government-set relaxations for now

Is it wise to follow the relaxation of the corona restrictions as set by the government, and to no longer enforce face masks or social distancing on university premises as of next week? The university council isn’t so sure.

Yes, students and lecturers want better options for on-campus education. But no, not everyone feels safe in a full classroom.

The board of directors has decided to go along with the government-set rules for now. On Friday, they sent everyone an update on covid, saying that they will no longer enforce face masks or social distancing after September 25. 

In line with this decision, all study spaces at the University library will be available again from September 27, although students will have to make a reservation.

Face masks, but no social distancing

‘The board has decided to follow the government, but the faculties, service departments, and students might feel differently’, board president Jouke de Vries said during a council meeting on Thursday. De Vries emphasised that he’d want to hear about this, because the university might also decide to be stricter than the national policy dictates.

‘Could we consider keeping the face mask rule for a while and relaxing that in a week or two?’ Lorenzo Squintani with the science faction asked. It would be a good compromise. It would do away with social distancing but still take into consideration vulnerable students and staff who don’t want to be unprotected among the masses.

Social distancing, but no face masks

Part of the council thought it was a good idea. Perhaps it would be a good idea for people to wear face masks in class? Others on the council disagreed. ‘What about people with asthma?’ asked Dinie Bouwman with the personnel faction. ‘They can’t wear a face mask all the time.’

It might be a better idea to maintain the rule of social distancing. Why don’t we reserve a few rows in the classroom for vulnerable students, Bouwman suggested. That way, they can keep their distance. While some in the council liked this idea, others opposed it.

‘I was teaching a class yesterday and there weren’t any free seats left’, said Kristina Linke with the science faction. ‘There’s no way we could have left a whole row or even a single seat open.’ Both students and lecturers who’d seen the same thing happen agreed with her statement. Solving the issue wouldn’t just be down to scheduling, as someone suggested during the meeting. ‘We simply don’t have enough room at FSE’, says Floor Kuiper with the personnel faction. ‘The schedule for block 1B doesn’t take any of the restrictions into account and we’re still short on space.’

‘Corona pass’

The most important condition for any and all restrictions is how safe students and staff feel. Someone suggested that people might feel safer if they were aware of the vaccination coverage at the university. Another person suggested introducing a ‘corona pass’: only allowing people into the university if they could show a certificate that indicated that they had been vaccinated, cured of covid-19, or that they had recently received a negative test result. Right now, no one is forced to show proof of health, not even at the Foodcourt or at the ACLO bar.

‘I can imagine it would work’, says De Vries. ‘I’ve been to various events where I had to show my certificate and it worked really well.’ While there are currently no legal grounds to base introducing a ‘corona pass’ on, the president didn’t rule out the possibility of the university deciding on it eventually. 

For now, it’s a matter of ‘talking to each other’, as rector Cisca Wijmenga said. ‘It’s important that students return to on-campus classes and interact with each other. It’s important that lecturers talk to students, and students to each other, about how to treat each other when you have different preferences for personal contact.’

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