Follow Covid rules so students can go home for Christmas, says minister


University students should be able to return home to their families at Christmas if the country “pulls together” and observes the new coronavirus rules, a cabinet minister has said.

The government is under pressure to guarantee young people are not confined to their halls of residence over the festive period because of Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses.

Thousands of students are currently self-isolating in their rooms following a surge in cases at institutions including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.

Labour has asked education secretary Gavin Williamson to “ensure that every student has access to testing to allow a safe journey home” for Christmas.

But the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said it would only be possible for young people to visit their family at the end of term if the country follows existing guidance.

He told Sky: “I very much want students to be able to go home at Christmas, and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible.”

In a statement, she said: “Leaving home to go to university should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families. Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return, but the government has again let young people down.

Labour’s Kate Green ha said in a statement: “It is unthinkable that students will be locked in their rooms and unable to return home to spend Christmas with their families. The government must promise that this will not happen, and work with universities to enable every student to access tests so that they can travel home safely.

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“Gavin Williamson must urgently come to parliament and set out how he will resolve the critical situation in our universities that is causing such anxiety for families across the country.”

Dowden also insisted there was “definitely science” behind the 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants – despite a scientist advising the government saying he had “never heard” the measure discussed at Sage meetings.

Videos posted on social media on Saturday evening suggested the early closing times were leading to street parties in city centres.

But Dowden said: “There is definitely science behind it, that’s why we’re requiring people to be seated in pubs and restaurants, so that stops the flow of them to and from the bar.

“We are reducing the closing times to stop people staying later and drinking. And the point about all of this is that everyone has their part to play. If we all play by the rules, we can ensure that there are not further, more draconian restrictions.”

Infectious disease modelling expert Prof Graham Medley said on Saturday he did not recall the curfew being discussed by Sage.



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