Students in coronavirus-hit halls 'feel like prisoners' weeks into first term

Students banned from socialising after a coronavirus outbreak in their halls say they ‘feel like prisoners’ as they face spending the next two weeks trapped in tiny rooms.

All 500 residents at Parker House in Dundee were asked to quarantine until contact tracing is complete after one person tested positive earlier this week.

Students are being told to stay in lockdown even if they test negative and fear the self-isolation period could be extended if the outbreak is not contained.

45 people in the accommodation block have tested positive so far, but officials expect more to come to light and confirmed on Friday that the outbreak had spread to another halls of residence in the city.

Some students have issued cries for help on their windows after being told parties would not be tolerated even when quarantine comes to an end.

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Parker House resident Joe Wilson, a first-year student at Abertay University, told Metro.co.uk that many felt ‘fed up and frustrated’ that restrictions were imposed so soon into their first term.

‘We have been told not to see our flat mates at all and if they are in the kitchen we should not go in,’ he said.

‘Freshers started on the 14th so we have only had a full week where we could see people.

‘We are online and have got group chats so we can talk to each other, but it’s weird going from freshers where you could go out and see your mates and now we have got to stay in our rooms for two weeks.

‘It’s difficult. I don’t think anyone feels really low yet, we’re more fed up. It’s going to be a long two weeks.’

Joe’s whole flat have tested negative for the virus but must remain in isolation for the full 14 days while test and trace continues.

The 18-year-old, who studies ethical hacking, hit back at suggestions students are responsible for the soaring number of cases, insisting most freshers did take the guidelines seriously.

He questioned why universities were allowed to reopen if they were not prepared for the ‘inevitable’ spike in cases caused by an influx of young people arriving in towns and cities across the country.

‘We have not done anything wrong but now we are like prisoners,’ he said.

‘We were told we should come to university, [Government] said “it’s safe, it’s fine, follow the guidelines”. We have done that.

‘We are paying a lot of money to stay in halls even though we could just do it online. We have moved down and started but not really started.

‘We’re just really bored and a bit frustrated that we have been told to go to university and now we are all in lockdown and being blamed for causing it.

‘Urging people to go to university, bringing everyone together and allowing them to meet, this was absolutely going to happen.’

NHS Tayside said the maximum self-isolation period for students at Parker House would be 14 days and that it is reviewing if this can be reduced for some people following test results.

‘We understand that this is an anxious time for students and welfare support and advice is in place for anyone who needs help,’ said the area’s Associate Director of Public Health Dr Daniel Chandler.

‘I want to reassure students and their loved ones that Public Health investigations and contact tracing are continuing, and we will continue to review the guidance and provide further updates in the coming days.’

Several universities across Scotland are dealing with major outbreaks of the virus, with many students in halls of residence in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh all being told to quarantine.

172 Glasgow University students have so far tested positive, though officials say that figure is likely to be higher.

A total of 600 people have been forced into isolation, with the outbreak centred in halls of residences Murano Street Student Village and Cairncross House following freshers’ week.

Some fear they’ll catch the virus next and say isolating a selection of flats isn’t working because students want to enjoy their first year and socialise.

Glasgow student Jacob Ferguson accused the university of not cracking down on illegal gatherings quick enough during freshers’ week, claiming some raged on till 4.30 am. Although police broke up some parties he claimed that there were no security spot checks to stop secret indoor get-togethers.

A university spokesperson denied not doing enough, insisting all unauthorised parties were broken up.

Jacob, who is self-isolating in Murano halls, said: ‘I feel like the university failed to do enough about the parties during freshers’ week.

‘It’s not surprising that if you put together young people who have been on lockdown for the last six months there’s going to be lots of parties.

‘They did send emails telling people to follow the guidelines but that’s not going to be enough.

‘I did consider [reporting parties] but it would cause tension. It’s not my job to police other students.’

Jacob, a maths student from Berlin, said he wasn’t ‘in the best place’ mentally as he adapts to living in a new country with such tight restrictions on who he can socialise with.

It comes as hundreds of thousands of students across Scotland were told not to go the pub this weekend or have parties under new draconian guidelines put in place to bring the virus down.

In a set of rules agreed by Scottish university leaders and the Scottish Government, students across the country were told they will not be allowed to socialise outside their households and face being kicked out of university if they are repeatedly caught flouting the rules under a ‘yellow card red card’ system.

Extra staff will be brought into student accommodation to watch for any breaches of the guidance and to support students who are self-isolating.

Glasgow student Rose Dickson said she understood the need for stricter measures.

The 18-year-old has managed to avoid having to self-isolate at Wolfson Halls and says while most students are following the guidelines, many don’t fear catching the virus as they just see it as a ‘flu’.

‘A lot of people are saying “what did you expect” but we are not stupid, we are 18, we know the rules.

‘We do want to hang out with each other but with the fear of getting kicked out we would rather stick to the rules,’ she said of people in her building.

However, the measures have been criticised by the National Union of Students Scotland as ‘unjustified’ and ‘deeply concerning’ while the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has raised concerns about the ‘human rights implications’ of the restrictions.

The guidelines  were announced after opposition leaders accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of a ‘basic failure’ to anticipate the problem and provide more testing on university campuses.

Around 1,700 students were put on lock down in Manchester Metropolitan halls of residence on Friday night after more than 100 Covid-19 cases were recorded.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out whether university students may be asked to stay on campus instead of going home for Christmas in order to stop coronavirus spreading.

But unions have warned that the ever increasing restrictions could have a huge impact on students’ mental health.

A Glasgow University statement said: ‘There were a number of unauthorised parties which took place in or around our residences at the start of Freshers’ Week.  All of these were broken up by our security teams, often working closely with Police Scotland.

‘We were very clear with students that these gatherings would not be tolerated and we have instigated disciplinary proceedings against repeat offenders. This will involve both the termination of their accommodation contracts and potential suspension from university courses.’

Commenting on the situation in Dundee, Dr Daniel Chandler said tests are being offered to all students in halls hit by an outbreak.

He added: ‘The NHS Tayside Health Protection Team and Test & Protect staff will be continually monitoring the testing data and results from both Parker House and Meadowside Hall to allow us to review whether and how best to offer further opportunities for residents to access testing.’

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