SAGE WARNS STUDENTS SHOULD BE TOLD TO STAY ON UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES OVER CHRISTMAS & NEW YEAR
Writing in iNews on Wednesday 23 September 2020, Richard Vaughan reported that Government scientists are warning that students should be told to stay on their university campuses over the Christmas period to avoid spread of Covid-19 in their local communities if they return home for the Christmas-New Year break.
Ministers ‘must tell students to stay on campus over Christmas’ to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks
SAGE warns of ‘larger outbreaks’ when students return from university at end of academic term
Students should be told to stay on their university campus over the Christmas period after Government scientists warned of risks of “larger outbreaks” of Covid-19 when the academic terms end in December.
Experts are concerned that students will spread the disease to their local communities when they return home for the Christmas break, and urged ministers to develop policies to mitigate the risks posed.
The warnings are contained in the latest minutes to be published from meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
Outbreaks spilling from universities
The documents state that risks of larger outbreaks “spilling over from HE institutions” are more likely to take place towards the end of the academic term, coinciding with the Christmas and New Year period.
“This could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making,” SAGE warned.
One scientist involved in the discussion told i the issue was of “sufficient national concern” to demand the Government monitor the higher education sector and develop policies to stop further outbreaks.
Failure to do so would lead to “confusion” in the system, the scientist added.
Universities across the UK have already been hit by a rash of infections, with the University of Liverpool confirming this week it has had 87 this week, while the University of Dundee told 500 students to isolate due to an outbreak in halls of residence.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Unit and former government special adviser to the universities minister, said the Government will be forced to tell students to remain on campus during the Christmas break.
“Ministers will have to tell students that it’s best you stay away from home this year. It is no different from any other situation. If you are following the science then what else can the Government say?” Mr Hillman said.
“The worry will be if they do go home that they will bring the virus back to their parents and families. It is just another on the long list of sacrifices people will have to make to battle this disease.”
He added that universities will have to prepare for having a “significantly greater proportion” of their students on campus on Christmas Day, and suggested institutions should try to keep campus venues open to avoid students mixing with older people in local pubs.
It comes after Oxford Council agreed to stage a townhall to discuss local residents’ concerns about large gatherings of students ignoring social distancing rules at Oxford Brookes University.
Ministers have yet to draw up plans to prevent students from spreading coronavirus, but will be desperate to avoid telling students to celebrate Christmas away from their families.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We will continue monitoring the situation very closely and follow Public Health England advice, adapting policies to best support students and providers as the situation evolves.”