Coronavirus: Students might be asked to stay on campus over Christmas, government admits

It follows outbreaks at several universities across UK

Clea Skopeliti
Thursday 24 September 2020 13:35 BST
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There has been an outbreak at the University of Glasgow
There has been an outbreak at the University of Glasgow

Students may be asked to remain on university campuses over the Christmas holidays due to the risk of infecting family members, the health secretary has admitted, following a major coronavirus outbreak in a university’s student halls. 

Some 600 students at the University of Glasgow have been forced to self-isolate in two of the university’s halls of residence after an outbreak which has seen 124 test positive for the coronavirus.

Responding to questions about whether students will be able to spend Christmas with their families, Matt Hancock said on Thursday: “I don’t want to have a situation like that [students not being able to return home for Christmas due to risk of infection relatives] and I ever much hope we can avoid it.” 

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, the health secretary repeatedly underlined that the government’s goal was to suppress the virus while protecting the economy and education system.

After being pressed on the question of students returning to their family homes during the winter break, Mr Hancock admitted he’s "learned not to rule things out”, while adding that it wasn’t a government goal to have students remain on campus over the festive period.

He said: "I’ve learned not to rule things out – one of the challenges is making sure people are as safe as possible, and that includes not spreading between the generations.

"But it’s not our goal. I don’t want to leave you with that expectation, but we have to work on all contingencies at this stage. I know that people understand that it’s an unprecedented crisis and so we do have to work on contingency plans."

The health secretary’s comments come after scientific experts in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) reportedly advised that students should be kept in isolation on campuses during the holiday period.

Students returning from halls of residence and campuses to be with family members who may be vulnerable "could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making”, Sage warned, according to meeting minutes seen by the i newspaper.

Good Morning Britain’s Dr Hilary Jones agreed with the view, saying on Thursday: "There’s not a lot of good news is there, certainly university campuses [are] likely to be where transmissions are rife."

As well as at Glasgow University, outbreaks have been reported in student halls in Dundee, Liverpool and Aberdeen, leading to scores of students being forced to self-isolate.

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