On Friday 15 January 2021, Kali Lindsay, writing in the Chronicle Live reported that Durham Parish Council had received numerous complaints about the number of students returning to the city. Police have been asked to increase patrols over fears returning students are breaching coronavirus rules.

Complaints students are returning to Durham City and breaching coronavirus rules

Durham Parish Council says there have been numerous complaints about students being back in the city

Police have been asked to increase patrols in Durham City over fears returning students are breaching coronavirus rules.

Durham Parish Council says it has received numerous complaints about the number of students who have returned to the city, the lack of social distancing and groups gathered in the city.

The city became a UK coronavirus hotspot last year when 1,000 students tested positive for the virus within one week.

But Durham University has told students not to return to the city after the Christmas break following the Government’s latest lockdown announcement - unless they are studying certain subjects.

Any students who do return to the Durham are required to take a coronavirus test on their first day back, followed by tests on day four and day seven.

Durham Parish Council is now seeking a meeting with the Chief Constable of Durham Police and wants patrols increased in the city.

A spokesman for the council said: “The parish council wants to make it clear that whilst the vast majority of us, including students, are sensible, we follow the rules and are clear that we must stay at home to protect lives.

"Sadly a small minority now living in our community appear to be breaching the lockdown rules and guidance, thus putting the health and wellbeing of our residents are at risk. 

“In the context of a new, highly transmissible variant of this virus and over 1,000 daily Covid-19 related deaths nationally, breaches of these rules and guidance are quite simply unacceptable.

“The Government and the Met Commissioner are clear that all breaches, or perceived breaches of the Covid-19 lockdown measures must be reported via 101.

“The Met Commissioner has also made it clear that those individuals who break lockdown rules are now increasingly likely to face fines.

“Locally, Durham University continues to fund additional resources in the form of the Community Response Team who are working in partnership with the Police to ensure proper enforcement of these regulations.

“In view of the feedback that we are receiving from our local residents, however, the parish council is seeking a meeting with the Chief Constable of Durham Police in order to gain reassurances about the operations being undertaken to enforce the Covid-19 regulations.

“This includes ensuring that all 101 calls are dealt with swiftly and appropriately by all call handlers as well as ensuring that all members of the Police force are aware of the Community Response Team’s role in Durham City to help support the Police. 

“It also includes the possibility of increasing the visible presence of Police on the streets of Durham to encourage sensible behaviour.

“The parish council recognises that this pandemic has put an incredible pressure on the police - who are all putting their own health at risk to protect us all – and the parish council hopes to work collaboratively with them, Durham University and Durham County Council to resolve issues of shared concern.

“In addition to this, we are aware that at times the legislation can be unclear and, in some cases, what is currently only ‘guidance’ and therefore non-enforceable, we feel ought to be upgraded to ‘regulations’. 

“The parish council has therefore contacted the local MP Mary Foy to ask that she lobby the Government further on this matter.

“Whilst the rollout of vaccines offers new hope that 2021 will see a return to some normality in our daily lives, that stay at home message is more important than ever.”

Durham University increased patrols in the city centre after a video emerged in October of revellers appearing to flout social distancing rules outside Babylon bar, while a video appeared days later of large groups gathered on Saddler Street.

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: “Covid-19 remains a deadly disease and the regulations are there to protect everyone.

“Thankfully, all the evidence suggests that the vast majority of people across County Durham are taking responsibility and are sticking to the rules.

“We will continue to work with all of our partners, including the university, to ensure Durham remains a safe place.

“If breaches of Covid-19 regulations by any individual or group of people are reported to us, we will investigate and we take appropriate action against those who put others at risk”.

Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) at Durham University, said the health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff and the wider community is always first priority. 

He added: “Given the current national lockdown and projected future national situation regarding Covid-19, we have advised students not already in Durham that they should not return to the city before the start of Easter Term (Term 3) except where necessary.

“We are working closely with other agencies and services to ensure our planning is co-ordinated and we are in regular contact with local residents and representatives, including the City of Durham Parish Council, to share our planning and receive feedback. 

“Our Community Response Team continues to support the police with student engagement, education and encouragement around Covid-19 legislation and local restrictions. 

"They are working both pro-actively, patrolling student areas, and reactively, supporting the police in responding to incidents. All breaches, or perceived breaches, of the Covid-19 lockdown measures must be reported via 101.

“The vast majority of our students have responded to the local and national Covid-19 restrictions as responsible citizens. 

"We are communicating regularly with our students to remind them of the latest Covid-19 guidelines and have updated our Student Pledge to reflect these responsibilities. 

“We are all part of the Durham community and we all have a duty to help keep each other safe.”

Complaints students are returning to Durham City and breaching coronavirus rules - Chronicle Live