A government scientific advisor has warned that university students could have to remain on campus over Christmas if there are coronavirus outbreaks.
Sir Mark Walport who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government, warned students could be forced to stay in their university accommodation when term ends to prevent coronavirus from spreading to parents and grandparents as well as other parts of the country.
This warning comes as freshers in Scotland have been told not to go to pubs this weekend, following hundreds of students being forced to self-isolate following an outbreak.
University campuses across the UK have introduced their own testing centres so students and staff can be quickly tested if they show any symptoms.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also refused to rule out banning students from being allowed to have Christmas at home with their families.
This comes as over the last few days 600 students at a Dundee university tested positive for coronavirus and then at Glasgow University a further 120 tested positive and then Liverpool saw an outbreak.
Sir Mark told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “Universities are very large communities, they bring together people from across the country and they’re far from monastic communities these days.
“The one thing that we don’t want is for an outbreak of coronavirus in a university to then result in students going home and spreading that infection to other parts of the country and other communities, to their parents, to their grandparents.
“If students are infected when it comes near to the end of term they may have to remain where they are.”
Scotland’s Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead told the Today programme, “So our focus at the moment has to be to suppress the virus, so that we don’t have to take difficult decisions in the future.”
Professor Jonathan Ball, of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said universities are “particularly high-risk settings” which has the potential for rapid spread of the virus.
He said, “If you think about these people aren’t going to have symptoms and yet potentially can spread, then if you’re missing those out of your testing strategy and regime then you’ve got a potential problem.”
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