Covid-19 outbreaks across university campuses

Over the weekend, it was announced that students in Scotland and in Manchester were to be placed under further restrictions following significant outbreaks of Covid-19. In Manchester, 127 students have tested positive for the virus, while around 1,700 university students have been told to self-isolate.

In Glasgow, nearly 200 students have tested positive. 500 students are also self-isolating in Dundee following an outbreak at Abertay University. Similarly in Aberdeen, 72 students are self-isolating. Every day more cases have been announced.

Despite these high numbers, the real scale of the outbreak remains unclear as many students are unable to get tested. In Manchester, students without access to a car cannot get tested as all local testing centres are drive in only.

These outbreaks are serious, however they are not surprising. The University and College Union raised concerns over the potential for significant outbreaks in university months ago. Despite this, the focus on profits at universities across the country meant students were told to secure university accommodation.

In response to the crisis, various restrictions have been implemented. In Scotland, all students have been banned from visiting pubs and restaurants. Not just students in halls, most at risk of spreading the virus, but ALL students. Including students living at home and even PhD students who are also university staff.

YCL Student Officer, Peter Stoddart, who is a student in Glasgow said “These restrictions are entirely unworkable and unenforceable. What about the countless students who work in hospitality? Why are all students included in the restrictions? All this does is serve the UK Government’s purpose of attributing this second wave to young people and attempts to paint all students as drunk partygoers who have no consideration for the rest of society. There’s no attempt to review the actual situation that has predictably developed.”

In Manchester, students have reported that they feel abandoned, as the Metropolitan University announced the lockdown on students in halls, mere hours before it was announced. Students unable to get food prior to the restrictions were told they would have to rely on takeaways.

In a statement due to be released this evening, the YCL’s Student Commission said “The YCL condemns the actions of Universities and the Government which have led to the entirely avoidable crisis taking place in university campuses across Britain. Instead of prioritising the safety of students, universities have prioritised profit.

One YCLer, Rosie Strachan, who has recently started studying at Edinburgh University, said the restrictions represented a “ridiculous attempt at shifting the blame away from the universities and government, towards the student community by framing them as irresponsible and unable to follow the rules”. She continued, “Universities have failed to consider the dangers which would come from student accommodation. They are at fault for this rise. Not the students in need of a place to stay.”

In response to the outbreak at the University of Glasgow, students have called for a rent strike. Accommodation fees start at around £5000, on top of the £9000+ that non-Scottish students have to pay. Students at the university report feeling imprisoned by the restrictions. In a statement released on Twitter, the students said “Glasgow University did not plan for the impact of the coronavirus… We recommend that all students stand in solidarity by withholding rent payments until the University work out a method to reimburse us for any negligence.”

Fundamentally, these outbreaks were entirely avoidable. The vast majority of teaching is taking place online and students did not need to live in halls to take part in classes. Despite this, universities prioritised profits made from student rents rather than student safety. University bosses need to take the blame for this, and need to admit it was their callous behaviour which ultimately caused these outbreaks.

Challenge News Desk

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