Students ‘should stay on campus over Christmas holidays’, SAGE scientists warn

uni students - Jeff J Mitchell /Getty Images Europe
uni students – Jeff J Mitchell /Getty Images Europe

University students should stay on campus over the Christmas holiday, Government scientists have advised, due to concerns that they could spread coronavirus in their local community when they return home. 

Experts in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have warned that risks of larger outbreaks “spilling over from [higher education] institutions” are more likely to take place towards the end of the academic term in December, according to SAGE meeting minutes seen by the i newspaper. 

“This could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making,” SAGE reportedly warned.

One scientist involved in the discussion told the newspaper that the issue was of “sufficient national concern” to demand the Government monitor the higher education sector and develop policies to stop further outbreaks. Failure to do so would lead to “confusion” in the system, the scientist added.

The move will be “just another on the long list of sacrifices people will have to make to battle this disease,” a former government advisor said. 

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Unit, said the Government will be forced to tell students to remain on campus during the Christmas break.

“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?” Mr Hillman said.

Universities across the UK have already been hit by growing infections, including the University of Dundee which forced 500 students to isolate after an outbreak in halls of residence. The University of Liverpool also confirmed this week it has had 87 confirmed new cases. 

A Department for Education spokeswoman 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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