UK plans pre-Christmas student lockdown as millions set to plunge into highest alert level

Doubts cast over government move to halt universities’ Covid surge

A student is seen at the window inside the Birley Halls student accommodation, for students at Manchester Metropolitan University, in Manchester, north-west England on September 28, 2020, as many students live in a temporary lock-down in a bid to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus covid-19 on the campus. There are concerns that some young people will face the prospect of being confined to their halls of residence over Christmas because of Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses. / AFP / Paul ELLIS
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University students in the UK could be put into lockdown for two weeks so they can return home for Christmas.

Students would be told to remain on campus with all classes taking place online between December 8 and December 22 to reduce the risk of spreading the virus across the country.

After completing quarantine, Covid-free students would be allowed to return home, The Guardian reported.

The proposal comes after international students told The National they were considering returning to the Middle East because of the way British universities had handled the coronavirus crisis.

Students in the UK remain furious at being locked in their dormitories as cases surged in halls of residence.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan is reportedly in talks with Universities UK and vice-chancellors in an effort to persuade them to back the campus lockdown plan.

The government said it was working out how students could return home in a way which “minimises the risks of spreading the virus”.

However, University of Bristol infectious disease expert Ellen Brooks Pollock said student lockdown would need to be extended for longer than two weeks for the plan to work.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If the infection is already widespread, then having this quiet period at the end of term is unlikely to prevent outbreaks within halls of residence.

“Two weeks might be enough for students living in small households with two or three other people, but in these halls of residence, where there’s a lot of people living together, it could lead to an outbreak.”

She added: “Two weeks wouldn’t be long enough at the end of term. It’s too late essentially.”

University and College Union general-secretary Jo Grady said the government appeared “obsessed” with Christmas when the focus should be on “what students and staff do now”.

She told the BBC: “Two weeks should not be the focus. It should be what they do now, what they do for the coming week.

“The best thing the government could do would be to acknowledge they made a mistake and apologise to students who came back to campus to be needlessly infected.”

Millions more facing new lockdown

Meanwhile, millions more are expected to face tougher restrictions with fears London could be the next city to move up on the UK's Covid alert system.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has requested the capital move to the “high” Tier 2 restrictions to curb a rising infection rate.

The Liverpool region is currently the only area under the toughest rules - with pubs not serving food forced to close.

Manchester is also at risk of moving to “very high” restrictions but local leaders are resisting the move. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he will consider taking legal action if the government places the region under the strictest rules.

The UK yesterday recorded 137 coronavirus deaths, down on Tuesday’s 143, which was the highest daily death toll since June.

Scientists warn numbers will continue to rise.

Boris Johnson has rejected a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown called for by Labour.

“Let’s try to avoid the misery of another national lockdown,” he told MPs.

“I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus, but we are going to do it with the local, the regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented.”