Students should be told to stay at uni over Christmas to limit COVID spread, warn experts

Look on the bright side: your mum would never let you drink a VK with Christmas dinner

Students should be told to stay at uni over Christmas to avoid bringing the virus back from campus, experts have warned.

The end of term will bring “large outbreaks” of the virus when students return home, says the government’s scientific advisory body SAGE, whose members warn government action will be needed.

“Ministers will have to tell students that it’s best you stay away from home this year. It is no different from any other situation. If you are following the science then what else can the Government say?” said Nick Hillman, director of the HEPI thinktank and former adviser to Michael Gove.

Hillman also told the i paper that unis should prepare for having students on campus over Christmas, and should think about keeping uni pubs open.

Health secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule it out this morning, telling Radio 4: “I don’t want to have a situation like that and I very much hope we can avoid it.”

He added: “It’s not our goal. I don’t want to leave you with the expectation, but we have to work with all contingencies at the moment.”

“The worry will be if they do go home that they will bring the virus back to their parents and families. It is just another on the long list of sacrifices people will have to make to battle this disease,” Hillman said.

Confirmed coronavirus cases continue to rapidly grow on campuses. From low numbers at the start of the week, now Liverpool is reporting 87 cases and Glasgow over 120.

As winter approaches and students head home for Christmas, “this could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making,” said minutes from a recent SAGE meeting.

The idea has not been denied by government. Last night, the Department for Education said: “We will continue monitoring the situation very closely and follow Public Health England advice, adapting policies to best support students and providers as the situation evolves.”

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Updated: This map shows where coronavirus cases are rising at UK universities