Monday, 26 Oct 2020

Coronavirus: Three universities move to online teaching amid rising cases

Three of the UK’s biggest universities have moved to online teaching due to coronavirus outbreaks.

More than 1,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19 at the University of Manchester (UM) since the autumn term started last month.

The university has now joined with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the University of Sheffield in announcing a move to online learning to protect the health of students and staff.

It comes amid renewed calls for all universities to halt face-to-face teaching and for the government to “stop pretending” campuses are able to control the spread of the virus.

Around 80 universities in the UK have so far reported at least 5,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus following the return of students to classes.

UM, which has 40,000 students and 12,500 staff, has reported 1,041 positive cases in students since 21 September. A further 20 staff have also been confirmed as having the virus. The overall figure at MMU is understood to be more than 500 positive cases.

The Manchester universities said they would both increase the level of online learning for most programmes through until 30 October. This would be reviewed on 23 October.

The University of Sheffield – where nearly 500 students and staff have tested positive since the start of term – said in-person teaching would be suspended from Friday, but would resume on 19 October.

The move comes amid rising cases across parts of England, with the latest weekly infection figures showing Manchester’s rate has soared, with 3,105 new cases recorded in the seven days to 3 October. It is the equivalent of 561.6 cases per 100,000 people.

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The University and College Union (UCU) has welcomed the move by the Manchester universities but said virus outbreaks could have been prevented had the decision been made earlier.

UCU north west regional officer Martyn Moss said: “It is clear the government needs to stop pretending university campuses are well prepared for this crisis, and tell all universities to halt in-person teaching to control the spread of the virus.”

Meanwhile, staff at the coronavirus-hit Northumbria University have called on vice-chancellor Andrew Wathey to resign as UCU members agreed to ballot for industrial action over health and safety concerns.

The university announced on Friday that 770 students had tested positive for COVID-19, including 78 who were symptomatic.

On Tuesday, the UK reported another 14,542 coronavirus cases – almost 2,000 more than the day before – while hospital admissions in England hit a four-month high.

Another 76 deaths linked to the virus were also reported, taking the total to 42,445.

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