MASS GATHERINGS OF EXETER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS PROMPT RENEWED FEARS OF CORONAVIRUS TRANSMISSION
Writing in DevonLive on Monday 21 September 2020, Anita Merritt reported on fears that a crowded Exeter University event where Covid-19 rules and social distancing were ignored had 'endangered' lives. ...
Social distancing 'ignored' at crowded Exeter student event
Exeter's upcoming outdoor socially distanced cinema events have been 'put on hold until further notice'
Mass gatherings of students at Exeter University over the weekend have prompted renewed fears that lives are being 'endangered'.
On Saturday night, September 19, from around 11pm until 2am, pictures were captured of hundreds of students groups gathered outside Lafrowda Flats.
On the same night, an officially socially distanced outdoor cinema event was held on campus, which again saw massive groups congregating close together, despite the government's new rule of six law to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Other reports have been shared of hundreds of students all tightly packed together on the streets of campus. It follows numerous other reports over recent weeks as students have returned back to campus and student accommodation.
Exeter University has confirmed that socially distancing was maintained when the outdoor cinema event - a screening of Korean film Parasite - was held last night, Sunday, but has decided to cancel the same event this evening.
Among those who attended the cinema event on Saturday was a second year student who left when they felt it had become unsafe to stay.
The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "When we arrived, everything seemed fine as it was monitored and socially distanced as promised.
"However, once the film was started the 'monitors' completely disappeared, and after an hour or more of the film people started flooding in, ignoring social distancing, and hundreds were present by my estimate.
"This took place right outside the main Forum building of the university, so there is no way they were not aware.
"I feel personally that the university has endangered me and betrayed my trust, as I was told it would be socially distanced and safe, and I now feel I have been a part of something dangerous against my will.
"I was informed by a friend who was passing through the campus later that more people had arrived after I left."
It is now illegal for groups of more than six people to gather socially. The new rule came into force last Monday, September 14, to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.
An Exeter University student has defended the behaviour of students, but has voiced concerns over how large gatherings of students are being tackled on campus.
The student, who witnessed massive groups congregating outside Lafrowda Flats, a large block of accommodation on campus, on Saturday, said: "Initially there were only two campus patrol people there and they were just walking on the outside of the huddle of people.
"About an hour later a campus patrol van came but again, it didn't seem as though there was any effort to break up the group. More and more people started arriving even though the campus patrol were there.
"I can understand why students are meeting outside in such big groups. I think we are all desperate to meet new people, make friends and have a freshers week which is at least similar to previous years and how we expected it to be pre-Covid.
"The opportunities that we have to meet people outside are limited to the people in our flats and for many people who are in flats of very few people who maybe share different interests, it can be an isolating experience.
"The campus patrol do not seem to have the authority to break up groups which encourages people to join as we realise that there is a likelihood that we will not be asked to stick to the rule of six.
"On the other hand, it is frustrating as all of our lectures are online and many of the clubs and societies cannot go ahead and yet people are mixing in huge numbers and nothing is being done about it.
"The university put up a marquee on campus a few days ago and they are playing music and films which gives students more opportunity to meet people in a safe environment with track and trace which will hopefully reduce the amount of people who are encouraged to break the rule of six.
"I think it is very easy to demonise students for breaking the rules without recognising that for most first years it is their first time away from home and it can be difficult if you don't know many people and are stuck in your room doing the occasional virtual yoga session or pub quiz online."
The new academic year at Exeter University has begun today with lessons being held face-to-face and online.
A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, some of our students did not socially distance as required at an outdoor cinema event on Saturday night and, although the Sunday outdoor cinema night event worked well after we made some changes, we have decided to cancel this evening’s film showing.
"We apologise to any students who were following the Covid-19 rules and anyone who was concerned by the lack of social distancing. We are trying to find the right balance between supporting student activities and the government guidance on Covid-19 but we will always prioritise the safety of our community.”