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Northumbria University has said 770 of its students have tested positive for Covid-19, in one of the UK’s largest single-site coronavirus outbreaks, as other universities across the country reported surging case numbers.
The Newcastle outbreak has taken the total number of cases among students to more than 2,000 across 65 universities, with most testing positive in the last week.
Northumbria’s leaders said Covid-free students would still be able to attend classes in person and use shared facilities such as libraries, despite the size of the outbreak.
Andrew Wathey, vice-chancellor of the university, told staff in an email: “As of Friday, we can confirm that we are aware of 770 Northumbria University students who have tested positive for Covid-19, of whom 78 were symptomatic. These students are all now self-isolating.
“There are a number of reasons people were tested and I want to reassure you that the vast majority of these students are not unwell.
“Their flatmates and any close contacts are also self-isolating for 14 days in line with government guidance and have been advised to contact NHS 119 to book a test as soon as possible should symptoms appear.”
He said 11 members of staff had tested positive and were self-isolating.
The University of Newcastle also reported an increase in infections, saying 94 students and seven staff had tested positive.
The two universities issued a joint statement saying their Covid response teams were trying to trace all staff and students who had been in contact with those infected, as well as helping the hundreds of students in isolation with food and other support, including mental health services.
Newcastle city council said it was working to manage the outbreak, in a “joint gold group” involving the universities, the local authority and Public Health England.
Staff at Northumbria said their university had aggressively insisted on face-to-face tuition for the majority of students. Last month the University and College Union (UCU) branches at Newcastle and Northumbria said they had “serious concerns” about the universities’ plans to deal with outbreaks.
Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary said: “We told Northumbria University they had a civic duty to put the health of staff, students and the local community first and we take no pleasure in now seeing another preventable crisis play out. The university sector and the government must address this public health crisis immediately.”
A staff member at Northumbria told PA Media that classes were often half-full as so many students were already staying away. “We have high anxiety levels among staff and students who have a sense that the establishment is not listening to those anxieties about face-to-face teaching,” the staff member said. “There’s a lot of frustration because almost everything that we deliver face to face could be done much more safely online.”
But Wathey said the size of the outbreak – bigger than those seen in UK factories or other individual institutions – “reflects the good access to and availability of testing, as well as rigorous and robust reporting systems”.
The vice-chancellor claimed that where universities had started their term earlier, “numbers of student cases surged in the induction week and then reduced”.
New reports of infections at universities including Nottingham Trent and Bournemouth took the total number of universities with confirmed cases to 65 in little over two weeks.
In Scotland, the universities of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier reported more than 300 confirmed cases among their students, while the University of Glasgow had more than 170 and the University of Aberdeen said it had 99 cases.
In England, Manchester University announced 221 cases among students and staff just 10 days after the university reopened for the new academic year.
At the nearby Manchester Metropolitan University, UCU members passed a motion calling for the vice-chancellor, Malcolm Press, to resign over his allegedly “bungled” handling of the coronavirus outbreak, after more than 1,500 students were ordered into isolation.
Sheffield University has recorded more than 200 cases since the start of the week, including 91 positive tests among its students on Thursday alone.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: 770 students at Northumbria University test positive for coronavirus | Education