More than 1,800 students and staff from universities across the north-east of England, currently under tougher localised lockdowns, tested positive for coronavirus over the past week.
Newcastle University said 1,003 students and 12 members of staff were confirmed to have been infected with coronavirus in the past week, compared with 94 last Friday. At Northumbria University, there were also 619 new cases and Durham University confirmed 219 cases in students in the last week.
Most universities are planning to switch to online teaching for at least three weeks, except in cases where in-person lessons are essential.
Newcastle University said “the overwhelming majority of cases” were from “social and residential settings” and said appropriate measures were being taken to protect everyone on campus.
“We expected to see cases rise in light of the increase in cases both locally and nationally and all HE (higher education) institutions have to manage this on an ongoing basis,” a spokesperson said.
“We feel confident that we have appropriate measures in place to protect us all while we are on campus and to reduce the potential for transmission in our community,” the spokesperson said.
Durham University has asked students living in two colleges to remain on campus for the next week following the sharp rise in cases and Northumbria University said it was “continuing to make extensive efforts” to provide support for its self-isolating students with online concierge services or food parcels delivered by staff and the students’ union.
Meanwhile, Leeds University said 555 students and three staff members tested positive between September 28 and October 4.
“We are acutely aware that behind each number is an individual with their own needs and concerns, and ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of everyone is our absolute priority,” said the university’s Vice Chancellor Professor Simone Buitendijk.
Manchester’s two main universities – Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University – had earlier announced suspension of all in-person teaching for the rest of October, with the exemption of a few practical training courses.
In a joint statement, the universities told local media that they met with public health authorities and Manchester City Council following a “significant increase in the number of COVID cases across the city of Manchester”.
It comes amid growing concerns for student well-being on university campuses, with many reporting troubles with accessing essentials as they go into compulsory quarantine.
Universities UK, the organisation that represents the country’s leading universities, published a checklist this week as a guide for universities supporting students who are self-isolating.
“Self-isolation is key to containing the spread of COVID-19. Where it is necessary for students to self-isolate, university staff and students’ unions are making huge efforts to take care of both their physical and emotional wellbeing, including access to testing and health care, mental health support, continuing learning online, safe social interaction, food deliveries, laundry, and financial support,” said Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK.
“This checklist builds on previous guidance published by Universities UK to ensure universities continue to provide each and every student with the support they need,” he said.
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