Scottish students could be stuck in university halls over Christmas

Scottish students could be stuck in university halls over CHRISTMAS if coronavirus is not ‘contained’, Holyrood warns in another gloomy warning as Sturgeon prepares tighter restrictions

  • ‘Realistic possibility’ Scottish university students may spend Christmas in halls
  • Education Secretary said it depends on coronavirus infection rate being reduced
  • Nicola Sturgeon said they are looking at phased term dates and testing students
  • Scotland faces challenges as Lanarkshire could be moved into highest lockdown
  • Level four measures cannot be ruled out due to the ‘level of concern’ in the area

Scottish students face a ‘realistic possibility’ that they may not be allowed to return home over Christmas if coronavirus is not ‘contained’ , Scotland’s Education Secretary has warned. 

John Swinney said there is a ‘realistic possibility’ that university students could be asked to stay in halls or other university accommodation at Christmas – but stressed the Scottish Government ‘want to avoid that at all possible cost’.

Phased returns home and back to university are being considered by the UK’s governments as part of an attempt to limit further infections by the movement of ‘substantial’ numbers of people around the country.

Scotland still faces Covid challenges as North and South Lanarkshire could be moved into the highest level of lockdown, reports say. 

Level four measures cannot be ruled out by the Scottish government due to the ‘level of concern’ in the areas, according to a leaked letter to the council umbrella organisation Cosla. 

The decision has not yet been made and it is possible the situation is ‘stabilising’, but the letter claims that level four restrictions are under consideration, the BBC reports.  

Level four restrictions would mean conditions similar to the March lockdown, and will only be rolled out if ‘absolutely necessary’.  

Decisions will be made at ‘the latest possible point’, with the Level Four measures a potential option to stay clear of ‘still greater harm, including many deaths’.

Scotland’s Education Secretary, John Swinney has warned there is a ‘realistic possibility’ that students could be stuck in university halls over Christmas

Last month, thousands of students were locked down in their halls of residence in a bid to curb the rise in the number of cases on campus. Pictured: Student entertained themselves by writing messages on the windows using post-it notes in accommodation in Dundee

Speaking on the BBC Good Morning Scotland radio programme, the Deputy First Minister said the return of students at Christmas ‘without a doubt’ depends on the coronavirus infection rate being reduced.

Asked if that means students could be forced to remain in halls of residence, he said: ‘We want to avoid that at all possible cost because we want students to return home.

Self-isolation row as No10 confirms it IS looking at halving it to SEVEN days for those who come into contact with Covid carriers 

Confusion reigned over Britain’s self-isolation rules today after Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon suggested England and Scotland could end up with different quarantine rules.

Downing Street this afternoon confirmed it is investigating whether the current rules that force those who come into contact with a coronavirus carrier to quarantine for 14 days could be relaxed.

It came after Matt Hancock fuelled hopes that the period could be slashed to seven days – pointing out France already has a lower timescale.  

But at her daily press conference today Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said that she had ‘no plans’ to alter the 14-day period, with her top medic suggesting there was currently no evidence to support it.

Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch said he was not aware of any scientific advice in any part of the UK that would support a reduction from the current 14-day period, or 10 days from the date a person’s symptoms end.

Mr Leitch said: ‘We have no plans with the present clinical advice to change that in any way.’

Ms Sturgeon added: ‘We have no plans at the moment to reduce the period of self-isolation. We keep all of this under review; we don’t want people to live under the most severe restrictions for longer than is absolutely necessary.’

The Health Secretary insisted that the decision on whether to cut the quarantine period for those who come into contact with infected individuals from 14 days would be ‘entirely led by the clinical science’.

He played down the idea that the reduction was needed because Britons were flouting instructions from contact tracers to stay at home, praising testing tsar Baroness Harding despite Tory calls for her to quit.

But he said France had reduced the amount of time people have to isolate based on scientific guidance.

‘It isn’t about the compliance issue. It’s about the overall clinical judgment of what time is required for isolation,’ Mr Hanock told Sky News.

‘Obviously I’d rather have isolation as short as is reasonably possible because of the impact it has on people’s lives, but it must be safe.’

‘But I have to be realistic that, if we have a situation where the virus has not been controlled, then we will have to look at other scenarios and other plans.’

Mr Swinney added: ‘There is a lot of thinking and work going on within the Scottish Government, with Universities Scotland, the institutions, with the National Union of Students, and also with the governments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to try to make sure this can be undertaken as safely as possible.

‘But there obviously is a risk that if the virus is not contained, then we may not be able to support the return of students to their homes.

‘We want to avoid that but it is a realistic possibility.’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday that she understands students will be ‘worried and anxious’ about the prospect of being unable to return home at Christmas but she does not want to give them ‘false assurances’.

‘We will do everything we can over the next few weeks to set out a path that sees you able to return home for Christmas, that is what we all want to see,’ she said.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed the Scottish Government is looking at phased term dates and possible testing of students and issues of people returning home where there are vulnerable people.

The First Minister added: ‘We will set that out as early as we can, with as much certainty as we can, but the really difficult thing in all of this is that we are living through an inherently uncertain and unpredictable pandemic.

‘That means we can always give the absolute cast-iron certainty on anything right now that I know people desperately want and I desperately would like to be able to give.’

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: ‘Students have already been at the sharp end of ad-hoc policy-making by the Scottish Government and now face further dithering and delays.

‘We must have assurances that the Government has a robust plan in place to ensure a safe return of young people to their families for Christmas, including the testing of students before they can safely return home and then again when they head back to university after the holidays.’

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said: ‘(The SNP) can ill-afford to repeat their chaotic mistakes that students endured when they returned to university in September, leaving many alone and with no support.

‘John Swinney seems to be taking a ‘just wait and see’ approach, which offers very little comfort that thousands of young people will actually be able to see their families this Christmas.

‘Proper planning, co-ordination and communication is needed this time round and the SNP must work constructively with other parts of the UK over this to get it right.’

This comes after thousands of students were locked down in their halls of residence last month in a bid to curb the rise in the number of cases on campus. 

Students in Glasgow University, Abertay University in Dundee, St Andrew University and Aberdeen University were forced to self isolate in September after outbreaks on campus. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Government are looking at phased term dates and testing of students. Pictured: Glasgow University students queue at a pop up test centre at the Murano Street Student Village last month

Locked-down freshers issued cries for help from isolation in their rooms using post-it notes to write messages on their windows. 

National clinical director, Jason Leitch, said: ‘We need you not to have house parties, I could not be more clear.’

Today Nicola Sturgeon says she has ‘no plans’ to change Scottish self-isolation rules amid fears that Britons are flouting the 14-day quarantine. 

It came after Matt Hancock fuelled hopes that the required quarantine period could be slashed to seven days.

But at her daily press conference, Ms Sturgeon said that she had ‘no plans’ to alter the 14-day period, with her top medic suggesting there was currently no evidence to support it.

Is England about to copy Nicola Sturgeon’s tougher lockdown? Matt Hancock says ‘we rule nothing out’ amid claims the Government is planning new Tier 4 Covid restrictions that would close restaurants and non-essential shops

  • Hancock refused to deny plans were being made to partially emulate Scotland
  • England’s Tier system ends at three, allowing restaurants and shops to stay open
  • Scotland’s top Tier 4 sees non-essential shops and restaurants closed
  • Mr Hancock said: ‘We’ve always said all along that we take nothing off the table’ 

The Health Secretary refused to deny that plans were being made to emulate Nicola Sturgeon’s clampdown in Scotland and bring in a new top Tier 4.

Matt Hancock raised fears of new tougher coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the worst affected parts of England today that could close restaurants and shops in a devastating blow to the economy.

The Health Secretary refused to deny that plans were being made to emulate Nicola Sturgeon’s clampdown in Scotland and bring in a new top Tier 4.

Currently England’s Tier system ends at three, which allows restaurants and shops to remain trading, while closing pubs bars which do not serve food.

But asked about reports that there are plans to partially copy Scotland, which has Tier 4 at the top of a five-tier system, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’ve always said all along that we take nothing off the table.

‘Having said that, we have seen the rise in the number of cases has slowed a bit.

‘The problem is it’s still going up, and while it’s still going up we’ve got to act to get it under control.

‘We rule nothing out but at the moment the three-tier system is what we’re working to and it’s effective in slowing the growth of this virus but it hasn’t brought this curve to a halt.’

However Boris Johnson poured cold water on the idea this morning.

On a visit to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading he said: ‘We are working at the moment through the Tier 3 strategy. 

Asked about reports that there are plans to partially copy Scotland, which has Tier 4 at the top of a five-tier system, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’ve always said all along that we take nothing off the table’


However Boris Johnson poured cold water on the idea this morning. On a visit to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading he said: ‘We are working at the moment through the tier 3 strategy’

‘The key thing is that if you’re contacted by NHS Test and Trace and you are told you have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus the most important thing to do is to self-isolate to beat the chain of transmission, to interrupt the chain of transmission.

‘We do need people to do that … it’s crucial to help us get through this that people do self-isolate when contacted.’

Swathes of the North West and Yorkshire have been plunged into Tier 3 local lockdowns in recent weeks, including Liverpool, Manchester, Lancashire and Sheffield.

It has seen pubs and bars close and a ban enforced on different households meeting.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland however, are already having much stricter lockdowns in a bid to halt a surge in cases. 

Officials in Whitehall are now said to be considering a fourth tier to be added to the Government’s existing system for England, which rates local alert levels under medium, high and very high.

It comes as Professor Neil Ferguson suggested some students should be sent home from school to prevent further infections. 

According to The I, sources in Whitehall expect it will be clear by mid November whether existing restrictions are working to reduce daily case numbers.

Wales entered a ‘fire break’ lockdown on Friday, which has seen all non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses close until November 9.

Similar to the nationwide lockdown in March, Welsh residents have been told they can only leave home for a limited number of reasons, such as exercise, providing care or buying essentials.

A row has broken out over the sale of essential items after supermarkets were seen cordoning off aisles and covering up some products. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted on Saturday: ‘We’ll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied.

‘Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn’t required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to.’ 

Supermarkets in Wales have been cordoning off aisles of their stores after Wales introduced a ban on ‘non-essential items,’ sparking confusion among shoppers 

Lidl closed off all their ‘non-essential’ aisles in Porthmadog before 6pm on Friday, but First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford has said supermarkets can sell ‘anything that can be sold in any other type of shop’ 

Meanwhile experts have said Scotland’s 16-day circuit breaker, which has been extended by another week, had little effect on coronavirus infections – which are falling.

Nicola Sturgeon’s scientific advisers themselves warned on Thursday it was ‘too early to detect any impact on transmission from the restrictions introduced on October 9’. 

On Saturday Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original nationwide lockdown in March, warned schools may have to shut to older pupils if household restrictions fail to have an impact.

The Government’s tiered-programme does not currently allow for the closure of schools.

The effectiveness of ‘circuit breaker’ lockdowns has been called into question after Nicola Sturgeon’s scientific advisers warned y it was ‘too early to detect any impact on transmission from the restrictions introduced on October 9’

Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4: ‘That (banning households mixing) should have a significant effect but as yet we have been unable to see it definitively.

‘If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults.

‘Of course nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools even partially. The challenge may be that we are not able to get on top of the transmission otherwise.’

Professor Neil Ferguson said experts had been unable to see a definitive effect caused by Tier 3 measures, adding older pupils could be sent home from school to prevent infections

Local leaders have been told by Government that Tier 3 regions need to reduce social contact by 60 per cent. 

On Friday five Army and Navy environmental health officers trained in ‘outbreak management’ were deployed in Liverpool on Friday, as the British Army was drafted in to support Tier 3 lockdown measures.

They have been tasked with identifying clusters of local infections, helping control outbreaks and taking action against businesses failing to comply with the Covid-19 rules. 

It is thought that further teams will be moved into other high-risk areas within the coming weeks. 

Retailers have been ordered to sell only essential goods and so many supermarket aisles are roped off and products covered up

Whole areas of supermarkets have been closed off in line with the restrictions imposed by Welsh ministers

Children’s toys: Toys which parents cannot buy for their children also include a build-your-own toy digger and a ‘Little People’ ride-on toy car

Labour councillor in Liverpool, Paul Brant, told The I he expected to see Tier 3 rules have some impact on Covid infection rates. 

He added: ‘Our fear is that Sage are correct to say that it won’t be enough to drive the R below 1. Even if it does go down below 1, actual case levels have shot up now rapidly.

‘We know from the first wave that infection levels can rise very rapidly and they come down quite slowly, so we could well find ourselves in a situation where R has drifted down but absolute numbers were not.

‘If the numbers don’t significantly improve, no doubt we will be revisiting exactly the same questions about whether further restrictions are going to be necessary to drive the levels down. That is the argument for a short sharp shock.’

Barriers cordon off a clothing area in a Cardiff Bay ASDA store on Sunday amid the draconian restrictions

Shoppers were unable to buy non-essential items such as books which were hidden beneath a plastic sheet

Professor Neil Ferguson said easing measures for Christmas was ultimately a political decision.

He said: ‘It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that. Some people will die because of getting infected on that day.

‘But if it is only one or two days the impact is likely to be limited. So that is really a political judgment about the cost versus the benefits.’ 

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