Coronavirus: Stagger university students’ return in new year to avoid spikes, Labour says

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The party is calling for those on placements – or whose face-to-face teaching is essential – to come back first in the new year.

Universities faced coronavirus outbreaks this term after welcoming students back for the start of the academic year, with hundreds of students testing positive within the first weeks of term.    

Labour has said the government needs to “urgently” address the January return to avoid “spikes in infection rates of the kind seen in September”.

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However, guidance has not yet been published for going back next year.

“The government have said nothing about the return of students to universities in January,” Labour’s Emma Hardy said in a letter to universities minister Michelle Donelan.

“This urgently needs to be addressed to ensure the movement of almost two million students across the UK does not lead to spikes in infection rates of the kind seen in September.”

Ms Hardy, the shadow minister for universities, added: “The government was late in realising there was a crisis in September, and it is deeply concerning that your department does not appear to have learned from this experience.”

Ms Donelan has said the government will look to utilise mass testing in the new year to make the return to higher education in January as safe as possible.

Ms Hardy said guidance on the return must be published “without delay” to allow universities time to organise plans. “The government should adopt Labour’s call to stagger their return and work with universities to deliver this,” she added. 

A government spokesperson said: “We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic, by supporting universities to provide a blend of online and in-person learning in a Covid-secure way.

“We have set out plans, delivering on our commitment to enable students to return home for the Christmas holidays while minimising the risk of transmission.

They added: “We will provide further guidance in due course on the spring term, which will look to use mass testing on offer and consider the latest scientific advice.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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