Christmas on campus: students could be asked to stay at university over the holidays, government scientists have warned

university student working on laptop and wearing a face mask

Students heading home for the holidays “could pose a risk to both local communities and families”

University students should be asked to stay on campus over the Christmas holidays to prevent coronavirus spreading in their home towns, scientists in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have said.

There have been multiple reports of Covid-19 outbreaks in campus towns already as around a million students have been moving around the UK for the start of the new term at university.

Because of this, university staff have been urging for all in-person teaching to be scrapped and replaced with online learning to help avoid a rise in Covid-19 infection rates.

And in minutes of a Sage meeting seen by the i newspaper, scientists estimated that the risk of outbreaks will be even greater at the end of term in December, as students head home for the winter break.

“This could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making,” the i reported that Sage experts said.

A Sage scientist who was at the meeting told the i that the risks are of “sufficient national concern” to ask the government to step in and write policies to stop further outbreaks. 

At the moment there are no government rules around students travelling home for the holidays, although the government has previously said that if their university town is put under local lockdown students would be expected not to leave. 

When asked by the BBC whether students might be banned from travelling home at Christmas, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that he had “learned not to rule things out”.

"I don't want to have a situation like that and I very much hope we can avoid it. We have said throughout that our goal is to suppress the virus, whilst protecting the economy and protecting education,” he added.

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