Hancock 'won't rule out' asking students to stay on campus over Christmas as virus cases surge

There are fears the number of coronavirus cases at the University of Glasgow could be much higher. Credit: PA

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he is not ruling out the prospect of asking students to stay on campus over Christmas, amid coronavirus clusters in university halls.More than 600 people are self-isolating at the University of Glasgow after 124 students tested positive for coronavirus.

However, there are fears the total number of Covid-19 cases could be much higher as the university is dealing with “two significant clusters”.

In an interview on Times Radio, Mr Hancock was asked whether students would be encouraged to stay at university over Christmas.

He said: “We have said that students should stay at university until Christmas… We don’t rule out the suggestion you just made but I don’t want to have to say that. It is some time off.

“I very much hope that we won’t have to say that, but as I say I don’t rule it out.

“The important thing is in the short-term, students once they’ve gone to university should stay at university so as not to spread the disease.”

Matt Hancock says he 'won't rule out' asking students to stay on campus. Credit: PA

The outbreaks are believed to be linked to freshers' week events and those who are self-isolating are in university residences.

A spokesperson for the university told STV: “We are aware of two significant clusters of positive cases of Covid-19 in our Murano Street and Cairncross residences, which we believe were largely due to social activity around September 12-14, the start of freshers’ week.

“We are working closely with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s public health team to manage these.

“The total number of reported cases since the start of term is 124 but the actual number is likely to be higher.

“We are not aware of any students who have had to receive hospital treatment.”

It comes after Nicola Sturgeon told students to adhere to guidelines, such as the rule of six and not visiting others' households, in a bid to stop coronavirus cases from spiralling.

During her daily Covid-19 briefing, the first minister specifically asked students not to hold house parties.

On Wednesday, a further 486 coronavirus cases were record in Scotland, the highest number of cases recorded in a single day in Scotland.

Meanwhile, hundreds of students in Dundee have been told to self-isolate following a suspected coronavirus outbreak at a halls of residence in the city.

All 500 residents of Parker House, a private student accommodation block, have been told to quarantine after a single confirmed Covid-19 case and a "small number" of suspected cases.

Close contacts of the individual who tested positive – a student at Abertay University – are being contacted.

NHS Tayside’s health protection team is investigating the outbreak and have advised the measures as a precaution to limit further spread.

The students self-isolating in Dundee live in Parker House.

A number of students have also tested positive for Covid-19 at Aberdeen University and similar self-isolation measures are in place in one halls of residence.

An Aberdeen University spokesperson told STV: “All those affected are being supported by the accommodation team to ensure they have access to food and other supplies.

“Affected areas of Wavell House are also being given a deep clean.  Assistance will be provided to affected students to support the need for them to study online while self-isolating. 

“We appreciate this will be an anxious time for many but the safety of our staff, student and wider community are paramount.

"At the same time, it is vital that we all work together to comply with the guidelines to help keep our community safe and mitigate the risk of further spread.” 

STV also reported that public health officials were investigating a coronavirus cluster at university student accommodation in Edinburgh, last week.

NHS Lothian said a number of people had tested positive at Napier University’s Bainfield accommodation in the Fountainbridge area of the capital.

Meanwhile the University of Liverpool is facing calls to abandon in-person teaching when term begins after there were 87 positive Covid-19 tests of staff and students at the institution in the past week.