Monday, 26 Oct 2020

Can students go home during coronavirus outbreak? Matt Hancock issues dire warning

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Coronavirus cases have risen across the country alongside the influx of new and returning students, with outbreaks linked to some university halls and campuses. Glasgow University has quarantined 600 students after 120 tested positive for the virus in recent days.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “We are aware of two significant clusters of positive cases of COVID-19 in our Murano Street and Cairncross residences, which we believe were largely due to social activity around September 12-14, the start of freshers’ week.

“We are working closely with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s public health team to manage these.”

Further outbreaks have been seen in Dundee and Liverpool.

The mass migration of students from within the UK and internationally has raised concern about how students could be contributing to rising infections.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said universities have been given a “clear request not to send students home in the event of an outbreak, so as to avoid spreading the virus across the country”.

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme about whether students would be asked to stay in their university residences at Christmas, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out such a measure.

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

“We have said throughout that our goal is to suppress the virus, whilst protecting the economy and protecting education.

“And protecting people in education whether it’s school or university is obviously critical as is protecting the economy.”

He added: “In terms of universities, we are working very closely with them to try to make sure the students are safe, but that they can also get their education.”

“I’ve learned not to rule things out and one of the challenges that we have is how to make sure people are as safe as possible.”

But he added: “This is not our goal, I don’t want to leave you with the expectation – but we have to work on all contingencies at the moment.”

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It is unclear currently whether any potential restrictions would apply to international students or domestic students or both.

It is also unclear how such a policy would be enforced should students be asked to stay, given many live outside of student accommodation belonging to a university.

Downing Street also did not rule out such a move in the event of outbreaks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “What is important in the event there is a specific outbreak on a campus is that steps are taken to ensure that the virus is not spread more widely.”

Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch warned he is “very concerned” at the situation.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Prof Leitch said: “I am concerned, very concerned, about higher and further education, I always have been.
“I was concerned when it came back and I’m concerned now.

“Predictably, we have cases. Every country in the world that has brought universities back has got cases.

“We need to be very, very careful.

“Even though most of those cases will not get serious illness, some of them will and some of them will potentially spread it to the community.”

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