Residents fear return of students will cause Covid spikes

More than half of residents in university towns and cities fear return of students will cause Covid spikes and lockdown restrictions, survey reveals

  • Tens of thousands of students are due back on campus in the coming days 
  • A poll has suggested 57 per cent of people fear local restrictions will result
  • Half of respondents believe universities should cancel all face-to-face teaching 

More than half of people living in university towns and cities fear the return of students will lead to coronavirus spikes and restrictions in their area, according to a survey.

Tens of thousands of students are due back on campus in the coming days and a new poll has suggested 57 per cent of people fear local restrictions will result. 

Nearly half (48 per cent) indicated they will blame the Government. 

Earlier this month, Government scientific advisers warned it is ‘highly likely’ there will be significant coronavirus outbreaks linked to universities. 

The Survation poll, carried out for the University and College Union (UCU), also found half of respondents believe universities should cancel all face-to-face teaching.

People gather in the street and pubs in Swansea, south Wales, as students return to the city 

In the poll, 57 per cent expressed a lack of confidence in local Test and Trace systems to control outbreaks. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said online learning needs to be the default position and the Government and universities must ‘stop selling the lie to students that they can have a full university experience in the current crisis’. 

She added: ‘Vice-chancellors are in denial and creating hygiene theatre to pretend institutions are safe. 

‘It cannot be business as normal at the moment and they need to stop pretending that is a credible option. People do not want to see local outbreaks on their doorstep.

‘With the Test and Trade system in England at breaking point it is no wonder that the public do not have confidence in the system or this Government.

The Survation poll found half of respondents believe universities should cancel all face-to-face teaching

‘With a nationally co-ordinated, comprehensive testing system in place, universities and colleges simply will not be able to cope with outbreaks or potential outbreaks.’ 

Earlier this month, scientists from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned social interactions and accommodation are likely to be a ‘high-risk environment’ for transmission to occur – and asymptomatic cases among students may be harder to detect.

Universities should consider providing dedicated accommodation facilities to enable students who test positive to effectively isolate and minimise the risk of an outbreak, the scientists said. 

The Sage paper said: ‘There is significant risk that HE (higher education) could amplify local and national transmission, and this requires national oversight. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that ‘it cannot be business as normal at the moment’

‘A critical risk is a large number of infected students seeding outbreaks across the UK, influencing national transmission.’  

Ms Grady added: ‘Our main objective is to help avert a preventable public health crisis. 

‘But if our members are concerned with how their college or university is behaving, we will back them if they vote to move into dispute, which could result in ballots for industrial action.’ 

The online Survation poll was conducted between September 11 and 14 with responses from 1,012 residents aged 18 or over living in 25 university towns and cities in England, said the UCU.   

Yesterday, 4,422 people tested positive for coronavirus in Britain with the total number of confirmed cases tanding at 390,358. 

Nearly 4,000 new positive tests were confirmed on Thursday, in what was the biggest daily rise since May 8.  

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