Students in Scotland have been told they will not be able to visit pubs and other hospitality venues this weekend due to an increasing number of coronavirus outbreaks within Scottish universities.
Universities Scotland, the body which represents Scottish institutions, announced the new rules following a meeting with the Scottish Government’s Minister for Higher Education, Richard Lochhead.
The statement reinforces the previous messages which students have been bombarded with, namely the ban on parties and socialising outside of your household bubble. They say that it will be made ‘absolutely clear’ to students that flouting the rules is not acceptable. In the meantime, there have been reports of police being called to student halls to break up social gatherings on multiple occasions.
More controversially, this weekend, students will be required ‘to avoid all socialising outside of their households, and outside of their accommodation.’ The Scottish Government will ask students not to go to bars or other hospitality venues throughout this weekend. Furthermore, extra staff will be deployed at student halls to enforce the regulations, with institutions also liaising with Police Scotland.
Students who break the rules will be subject to a ‘strict “Yellow Card/Red Card”‘ approach, though it was reinforced that institutions would prefer to not have to resort to disciplinary action, preferring to pursue a more amiable approach to enforcement.
Universities Scotland confirmed to Nowadays that despite the broad nature of the initial statement, the rules would only apply to those in university accommodations who are bound by university regulations and not all student households, or indeed, all students. A spokesperson for the organisation told Nowadays that their goal was to ‘reduce any chance of transmission’ as far as possible. They reinforced that the issues lie in student halls and don’t affect those living in private flats. It would also have been nearly impossible to enforce any student-targeted measures within broader society.
This comes after multiple outbreaks have hit student halls across the country. The most high profile of these has came at Glasgow University, where over one hundred people have tested positive, with hundreds more now in self-isolation. There have also been outbreaks in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.
Richard Lochhead welcomed the announcement calling it a ‘welcome package of additional actions.’ On Twitter tonight Nicola Sturgeon apologised to students for the abnormal start to the academic year, but said the measures were necessary to ‘get the virus back under control’ and pleaded with students ‘to do what’s being asked of you.’
However, others have accused the First Minister of failing to plan for the return of students, arguing that Covid spread was highly predictable when thousands were arriving from across the country, and the world. In the Scottish Parliament today, prior to the measures being announced, Nicola Sturgeon was put under pressure by other political leaders.
The leader of Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard, stated that the surge was ‘entirely predicted’ and bemoaned a lack of testing capacity. The Scottish Conservative’s Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson enquired as to whether routine testing should be implemented for students so they don’t transfer the virus back to their communities. Nicola Sturgeon responded, saying that testing wasn’t the only answer to the problem, and in a pointed rebuke, noted that there was no need to ‘undermine confidence’ in Test and Protect (the Scottish Government’s track and trace scheme) when it was ‘working.’
The rules have caused controversy with students, many of whom feel they are being blamed for spreading the disease when they have faithfully followed the rules. Whilst a small minority may be flaunting the rules, there is no evidence of a mass breakdown in compliance. Young people are also more likely to be in public-facing jobs, and thus more likely to be exposed to the virus.
There has also been confusion today over whether students could return to their homes after they arrived at university. Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Jason Leitch, has now confirmed that students cannot return to their parent or guardians’ home, except in certain circumstances because they are classed as a separate household. This raises the question about whether students will be stuck in halls during the Winter holidays, as well as if it is even remotely acceptable for students to be legally stopped returning to their rightful home.
It is important to remember the sense of loss and disappointment that so many young people are feeling because of the diluted university experience that has been provided to them. However, the vast majority realise that that loss is dwarfed by those who have, and will, lose loved ones. Contrary to popular belief, an overwhelming majority of university students have complied with the restrictions. The least that broader society can do is stop the scapegoating students and Government must ensure that any measures are medically justifiable, bearing in mind the mental health effects of students being potentially separated from family until next year.