Covid-19: 770 cases in Northumbria University outbreak

Campuses across UK report growing number of positive tests

October 2, 2020
Northumbria University
Source: iStock

Northumbria University has confirmed that 770 of its students have tested positive for coronavirus.

Details of the outbreak emerged as higher education institutions around the UK reported growing numbers of cases.

A Northumbria spokeswoman said: “As of Friday, 2 October, we can confirm that we are aware of 770 Northumbria University students who have tested positive for Covid-19, of whom 78 are symptomatic.

“These students are all now self-isolating. Their flatmates and any close contacts are also self-isolating for 14 days in line with government guidance, and have been advised to contact NHS119 to book a test as soon as possible should symptoms appear.”

Nearby Newcastle University said that 94 of its students, and seven members of staff, had also tested positive for Covid-19.

Irim Ali, the cabinet member for neighbourhoods and public health at Newcastle City Council, said that both of the city’s higher education institutions had “gone to incredible lengths to create Covid-secure environments” but that “a small number of students are undermining these efforts”.

Northumbria said that the increase in cases came in the week after students returned to campus “and reflects the good access to and availability of testing, as well as rigorous and robust reporting systems”. “In parts of the UK where universities started term earlier, numbers of student cases surged in induction week, and then reduced,” the spokeswoman said.

A Newcastle spokeswoman said that the institution “expected to see cases on campus in light of the rise in cases both locally and nationally”. The data “does not represent cases contracted or transmitted on our campus”, according to the spokeswoman, who said that the “overwhelming majority of cases we have seen are infections from social and domestic settings”.

The University and College Union said that it had warned Northumbria against bringing students back to campus in light of rising numbers of coronavirus cases in north-east England, and general secretary Jo Grady said that she took “no pleasure in now seeing another preventable crisis play out”.

Staff have for several months been expressing concerns that a return to on-campus teaching across the UK would drive a spike in Covid-19 infections, while universities have been coming under increasing pressure from students who have been placed into self-isolation as a result of coronavirus outbreaks.

Several other UK universities had confirmed growing numbers of coronavirus as of 2 October. These include 382 cases among staff and students at the University of Manchester, 207 at the University of Sheffield, and 194 at the University of Edinburgh.

“It is not enough to plan to manage Covid outbreaks when we should be working to prevent them,” Dr Grady said. “We cannot have students forced to quarantine in halls of residence with no familiar support network, or staff forced to carry out work on-site that could be conducted more safely from home. 

“Students must be allowed to safely return home if they wish to and without fear of financial penalty for leaving their student accommodation.”

Some universities have already begun to shift teaching back online. Manchester Metropolitan University, where about 1,700 students have been placed in isolation for a fortnight after 127 tested positive, moved all foundation and first-year teaching online, and Aberystwyth University said that all teaching would be online-only this week.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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