Students could be advised to stay at university over Christmas to prevent further Covid-19 outbreaks

By Rhona Shennan
Thursday, 24th September 2020, 12:58 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th September 2020, 4:44 pm
Students might be advised to stay at their university campus over the festive period (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Students might be advised to stay at their university campus over the festive period (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Students may be told to remain on university campus over the Christmas period after Government experts warned of the risks of “larger outbreaks” when the academic term ends in December.

The news comes after students from universities like Glasgow and Dundee have had to self isolate following positive Covid-19 tests.

What did SAGE say?

The warning came out of the latest minutes to be published from meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). SAGE suggests that risks of larger outbreaks of the virus are more likely to occur towards the end of the academic term, around the Christmas and New Year period.

SAGE said, “This could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making.”

The warning comes after several UK universities have reported outbreaks of the virus. The University of Liverpool confirmed 87 cases this week, and the University of Dundee has instructed 500 students to isolate after an outbreak in its halls of residence.

Director of the Higher Education Policy Unit, and former government special adviser to the Universities Minister, Nick Hillman, said, “Ministers will have to tell students that it's best you stay away from home this year.

“It is not different from any other situation. If you are following the science then what else can the government say?”

He added, “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.”

What did Matt Hancock say?

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 24 September, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that he had “learned not to rule things out” when asked if such measures could be implemented.

He explained, “One of the challenges we have is making sure people are as safe as possible, and that includes not spreading [Covid-19] between the generations.

“I don’t want to have a situation like that and I very much hope we can avoid it.”

A Department for Education spokesperson 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.”