Ben Hayward October 14th

A two-week pre-Christmas Covid lockdown is being planned for universities in England. 

Under the plan currently being developed by ministers, students will be asked to remain on campus with all teaching carried out online in the run up to the Christmas break. 

Universities would essentially go into lockdown from December 8th until December 22nd at which point all students would then be permitted to return to their home towns.

The plan is apparently being developed to deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge to ‘get students home safely for Christmas’ while also  preventing the spread of Covid-19 by limiting mixing between the students and the wider community in the weeks before the holiday.

Students with Covid-19 or its symptoms, and those who have been in contact with them, would be required to remain in their accommodation for as long as their quarantine period demands.

Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told ministers: “A critical risk is a large number of infected students seeding outbreaks across the UK, influencing national transmission.

“Peak health impacts of these new infections and outbreaks they spark would coincide with the Christmas and new year period, posing a significant risk to both extended families and local communities.”

However, Vice-chancellors who spoke to the Guardian questioned the idea of releasing all students on the same day, adding that they do not have the power to confine students and that the two-week period could  cause a rise in cases if students had little to do apart from socialise.

The plan also appears not to take into account the differing term dates with both Oxford and Cambridge terms ending before December 8th.

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Instead of this perverse obsession with Christmas, ministers and universities must focus on the here and now. We should be talking about getting people home now, not in two months’ time.”

“This is a government completely out of touch with the public and seemingly unaware of what happens at universities.”

Sage has also recommended that university and college teaching should be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential until the the virus subsides, saying that closing higher education was one of the most effective means of stopping transmission. 

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “All students will be able to go home at Christmas if they so choose. However, if students are travelling home, we must ensure they do so in a way which minimises the risks of spreading the virus, and the date when universities must stop in-person teaching will be an important part of this. We will set out details on this shortly.”

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