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Pre-Christmas lockdown considered for English universities

The government is considering a two-week lockdown for universities in England from 8th-22nd December, it has been reported.

Boris Johnson has vowed to “get students home for Christmas”. The aim of the lockdown would be to control the spread of coronavirus as close to a million students return to their families. Students would be required to isolate for this period, with all teaching taking place online.

The proposal will cause complications for those universities whose teaching will have finished before the specified end date. Michaelmas term at Oxford ends on 5th December, and on 4th December at Cambridge, so it is unclear whether students would need to isolate.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, criticised the “highly undesirable” suggestion, which has had no input from university students or staff, as “impossible to deliver or oversee”. She tweeted: “This perverse obsession with Christmas is dangerous. Government must focus on the here and now!”

Some university cities are seeing a much higher infection rate within the student population than in the general public, while cases at Oxford University tripled in the week 10-16th October compared to the previous week. Dr Ellen Brooks Pollock, a participant in the Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) said in an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme: “Our analysis suggests that reducing face-to-face teaching to essential teaching only does have the impact of slowing down the rate of spread and preventing more disseminated outbreaks.”

SAGE has advised for all non-essential teaching to be online. However, there are concerns that the plan will come into force too late to be successful. Dr Brooks Pollock told the Today programme that if infection is already prevalent, then “having this quiet period at the end of term is unlikely to prevent outbreaks within halls of residence.”

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, told LBC radio, “students just aren’t the homogeneous group that the government seems to think they are” and that they should not be treated differently. She spoke of the “horrendous conditions” that isolating students are already living in, with food packages and toilet roll failing to be delivered.

One Oxford student told Cherwell: “I would be happy enough to stay in Oxford during a Christmas lockdown – I trust that I’d be provided for and it would be cool to see my college all festively decorated.” However, another called the plan “frustrating”, saying that, after a term where “mental health has already taken a sharp decline”, a pre-Christmas lockdown would “take away the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Image Credit: Jiahui Huang. Licence: CC-BY-SA-2.0.

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