A minister today appealed to students not to spread Covid-19 in their bedrooms.
Ahead of freshers’ week, health minister Lord Bethell urged young people heading to universities across Britain to take “responsibility” in their social life for not fuelling the surging number of coronavirus cases.
Universities are already bringing in a range of measures to make campuses Covid secure, including many lectures being held online.
But with cases rising sharply among young people, Lord Bethell stressed: “We are deeply concerned about the spread among students. Some of that spread will take place in universities, and I pay tribute to the efforts of vice-chancellors to put in place social distancing arrangements in universities; we hope that they will have an impact.
“However, some of the effect is in their social life — in pubs, clubs and bedrooms up and down the country. That is the responsibility of the students themselves, and we are looking at measures to enhance and enforce the social-distancing measures that will stop the spread of this disease.”
Asked if Mr Johnson agreed with Lord Bethell on his “bedrooms” comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM would urge students along with the rest of the population to follow the updated rules and guidance and in particular to follow the Rule of Six on campus.”
The Government issued fresh guidance to universities at 1am today on dealing with coronavirus.
The recommendations include:
- Students should socialise in Covid-secure environments, for example campus bars, student unions or specific “creative spaces” which could include protective screens or markings for social distancing.
- Arrivals at university may be staggered and institutions should identify the “appropriate” mix of online and face-to-face teaching for each subject, reflecting what will maximise learning and minimise transmission risk.
- Face coverings are “likely to be appropriate” in many social settings, including any events hosted by student clubs and societies.
- Students living in halls of residence or in houses in multiple occupation who develop Covid symptoms should self-isolate in their current accommodation, rather than go home. All residents in that household must also isolate.
- Universities should ensure students are safe and well looked-after during their self-isolation period.
- They should not permit students to have private gatherings in halls of residence that break the “Rule Of Six”.
- Staff and other students can watch rehearsals and performances but they should avoid cheering or shouting.
- Universities should draw up plans to deal with a major outbreak on their site.
- More mental health support may be needed due to the disruption to study and working practices and uncertainty caused by Covid-19.
The guidance states: “The reopening of campuses will bring about a mass movement of students… The creation of many new households brings with it a degree of risk, and we expect providers to take all reasonable actions to minimise this risk.”
The coronavirus weekly incidence has shot up in the UK from about 12.5 to 19.7 people per 100,000. It has jumped particularly among younger people.
Among 17 to 18-year-olds, it has hit 48 per 100,000, 19 to 21 to 54 per 100,000, and 20 to 29 about 41 per 100,000.
The percentage positive rate has also risen, not just because of additional testing, but due to the disease spreading. For 17 to 18-year-olds it is now about six per cent and five per cent for those aged 19 to 21, up from about 2.5 per cent two weeks ago.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps denied that the latest Covid-19 rules are unfairly punishing young people who are unlikely to die from the virus.
He told Sky News: “You can’t unfortunately say we won’t apply [these rules] to young people. It will end up spreading to the rest of the population and that’s been the evidence elsewhere.”
However, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said: “The Government is seeking to scapegoat students to distract us from its own failure of leadership.”
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “Universities are taking action to encourage responsible student behaviour, including community responsibility agreements or pledges, and working in partnership with their students on campaigns to encourage collective responsibility for campus and wider community safety.”
For 17 to 18-year-olds it is now around six per cent, five per cent for 19 to 21, up from around 2.5 per cent a couple of weeks ago.
This rise has not been seen among children under 17 or elderly people who are particular vulnerable to the virus.
Scientists, though, are warning that the disease is expected to spread to all age groups and universities are being urged not to send pupils home if they are affected by a Covid-19 outbreak.