University students face circuit-breaker lockdown in bid to save Christmas

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  • October 15, 2020
  • Comments Off on University students face circuit-breaker lockdown in bid to save Christmas
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England’s university students could face a circuit-breaker lockdown in December amid Government efforts to get them home for Christmas, it is reported.

The fortnight-long shutdown across universities would take place from December 8 to 22, according to the Guardian, which added that the plans are in their “early stages”.

The move would also see universities instructed to switch from face-to-face teaching to online-only lectures at the start of the month.

Boris Johnson previously said that measures were being put in place “to allow students home safely for Christmas”.

However, a scientist who advises the Government has suggested that imposing a two-week lockdown on universities before Christmas may come too late.

Dr Ellen Brooks-Pollock, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Our analysis suggests that reducing face-to-face teaching to essential teaching only does have the impact of slowing down the rate of spread and preventing more disseminated outbreaks.

But, she continued: “It needs to happen early on in the outbreak because if infection is already widespread then having this quiet period at the end of term is unlikely to prevent outbreaks within halls of residence.

“Two weeks might be enough for students living in smaller households living with two or three other people but in these halls of residence where there’s really a lot of people living together it could just lead to an outbreak in those halls of residence.”

“And if there’s already disseminated infections, many of which are unobserved, two weeks wouldn’t be long enough at the end of term – it’s too late essentially.”

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Meanwhile, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady condemned the proposals as “unworkable and chaotic”.

She tweeted: “This is an unworkable and chaotic set of measures that will be impossible to deliver or oversee.”

She added: “We should be talking about getting people home now, not in two months’ time.

“The mass relocation of over a million students is going to take time and serious resources, as is looking after them while they are forced into quarantine or lockdown.”

“This perverse obsession with Christmas is dangerous. Government must focus on the here & now.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson previously suggested students may be required to self-isolate at the end of the current university term in order to safely return home to be with their families at Christmas.

Speaking last month in the Commons, the minister told MPs it is “essential” measures are put in place to ensure students can be with their loved ones during the festive period while “minimising the risk of transmission” of Covid-19.

The Department for Education (DfE) said details on the return home would be set out “shortly”.

A spokeswoman added: “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.”