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Opinion

Rector: Daily life with a corona twist

Everyday stories point towards better days, by the rector and prorector of the University of Copenhagen.

Something happened on Wall Street on a November day. Pfizer’s stock jumped when the pharma giant said that its vaccine looks promising. On the same day, the share price plunged at Zoom, which gains from people working from home.

Many of us probably prefer to follow the vaccine upturn and leave Zoomland behind. In any case, it is encouraging that science (again) can ‘fix’ the world situation. Not just in test tubes and labs, but also via insights that make us smarter about everything from social distancing behaviour to rhetorical psychology in prime ministerial press conferences.

… we must make an effort to stay on the sensible, restrictive track.

Regardless of the joy of returning to campus over the summer, the atmosphere at UCPH now suffers a measure of corona fatigue. Students and colleagues wrestle with well-being and ache for physical togetherness. They feel frustrated by the indefinite time span, the work to prepare online teaching, or the worries about the risk of attending exams in person.

This is a very general picture of the situation. According to WHO, 50 percent of Europeans are affected by ‘pandemic fatigue’ – a mixture of resignation, apathy and recklessness. In emergency response circles, a rule of thumb says that you can only be in a state of emergency for three months – then people start to relax. In the same way as we become numb by news sites’ constant, yellow breaking-news cries.

According to the Economist, the Danish population’s inclination to frequent hand washing and avoiding large gatherings was set back by 15-20 percentage points between April and September. The same trend is evident in REMA 1000 supermarkets, where according to Berlingske they have registered a drop by half in the use of hand sanitisers at store entrances from spring to autumn. And in the University Post we can read about students at CSS who walk against the imposed one-way direction on stairs and in hallways.

This demotivation dictates that we must make an effort to stay on the sensible, restrictive track. To minimise the spread of infection in society and because we want to hang on to physical presence on campus and because students and researchers are so important to society that UCPH cannot come to a standstill.

In Senior Management, we need all the good input we can get in this strange and unpredictable time. For this reason, we have set up a COVID-19 committee* with experts from SUND, LAW, SOC.SCI. and HUM. They will advise on how we can keep UCPH going amidst the restrictions.

… let’s turn corona-correct behaviour into an everyday thing so we can keep up motivation when the effect of … the emergency response recedes

These are our notes from the committee’s first meeting: Clear and honest communication tailored to target groups, explain actions, engage staff and students in solutions, encourage local ingenuity and think in terms of opportunities rather than just tiresome bans – but above all, let’s turn corona-correct behaviour into an everyday thing so we can keep up motivation when the effect of the yellow cries and the emergency response recedes.

Examples from faculties and academic environments indicate that UCPH is actually able to handle an everyday life during the corona crisis: At LAW, a support corps of students known as ‘coronators’– offer technical assistance to teachers for streaming, etc. At SUND, they have free meditation and virtual bingo. Joint morning singing at HUM is a big Facebook hit. And at Anthropology, students can take ‘Anthro walks’ with fellow students around the Copenhagen topography. These are both inspiring and stimulating everyday stories that point towards better days.

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