Gov scientist and Edi uni professor says it’s unfair to demonise students for a second spike

He says the new Covid restrictions ‘devalue the uni experience’


A government scientific advisor and Edinburgh professor has spoken out against the recent spike in cases leading people to incorrectly “demonise students”.

Mark Woolhouse OBE is a professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours which advises the government on coronavirus measures.

Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab about the second spike, he said: “It’s not good to demonise any group, particularly not students – I mean I’m a university professor! And I don’t think that [young people socialising] is the sole root of the problem either.”

Prof Woolhouse has been outspoken in his criticism of government measures before. In an interview with The Sunday Express, he called the national lockdown a “monumental mistake”, a “panic measure” and said he “never wants to see national lockdown again”.

In an interview with The Edinburgh Tab, he spoke about the introduction of the new “rule of six” where group sizes are limited to six people instead of thirty. Prof Woolhouse thinks students have actually been better behaved than they’re given credit for, and may have been seeing less than the allowed number of people (30 until this week) all along. He told The Edinburgh Tab: “I suspect a lot of [young] people are actually not doing everything they’re allowed to do. They’re actually more restrained.” He says that this overly cautious attitude may have even been what kept us relatively “safe” up to this point.

As for the new rules, he suspects young people will break them – but because he’s “realistic” not because he’s encouraging it. “The rules changing constantly and they’re hard to keep track of,” Prof Woolhouse said. “We may or may not agree with the individual aspects of them, but we have to do something.

“In the real world, not everyone is going to do to obey the rules. There are going to be breaches here and there. I’m not condoning that, but I’m a realist. That’s going to happen. And it would be very unwise of any public health policy not to factor that in. If your entire strategy falls down because there’s one student party somewhere in Edinburgh, then its a very weak strategy.”

As for the return to university, Prof Woolhouse advises students that “there is no magic bullet” and the only way to prevent a second spike is to follow the rules as best they can. “I mean a great deal of effort is going on [at universities] with all the social distancing measures and PPE measures and so on to make the university campus, lecture theatres, residents and everything safe. And again, I stress that people should go by the guidelines. Not meeting large numbers, wear masks when you’re expected to wear masks and stay two metres away when you’re expected to stay two metres away and do all those things. It’s incremental, every contribution to keeping the spread of this virus lower helps.”

But he accepts these changes, while incremental, vastly change the uni experience for students. “It’s bound to devalue the university experience, for students and staff. This isn’t the reopening of the university we all would have liked, but right now we can’t do nothing.”

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