University students risk acting as “amplifiers” for spreading coronavirus around the country, government scientific advisers have warned.
Student migration at the beginning and end of term warrants “more attention” as universities could “act as amplifiers” for COVID-19, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said in a new document published on Friday.
The report, looking into the risks of reopening schools, colleges and universities in September, said students moving back home at the end of term are more of a concern than students returning or starting at the beginning of term.
It warned: “If there is an outbreak at a university (even if not widespread transmission), then students returning home could pose a risk for spread across the UK.
“This will be further exacerbated if people return infected but asymptomatic.
“Students are also more likely to be integrated with the wider community at their home address.”
It added that students who fall ill with COVID-19 at university and then go home to avoid having to quarantine alone could also create an “issue”.
During term time, the potential for “spillover” into the local community around the university will depend on the “level of integration with the wider population” and how the university campus is configured, it added.
The report concluded: “All measures to reduce the risk and size of outbreaks within universities and rapid detection and containment of outbreaks within universities would all help limit transmission to the wider community.
“Further work on testing and monitoring, and outbreak response is recommended as a higher priority.”
Experts on the Children’s Task and Finish Group, a subcommittee of SAGE, also raised concerns about the lack of capacity on public transport when all children in England return to school full-time in September.
The document said: “Internal DfT (Department for Transport) modelling suggests that there is likely to only be capacity to accommodate a minority of children who use public transport to get to school in September, whilst maintaining social distancing.
“Alternative modes of transport, or staggered starts, are likely to be necessary. Capacity looks particularly limited in London.”
The advisers also called for the term “bubbles” to be dropped when referring to children in school who are allowed to interact with each other as there are concerns it risks confusion with household bubbles.
Schools were told at the beginning of July children will be grouped together in “bubbles” consisting of a class in primary and a year group in secondary.
The separate groups will have to avoid contact, with separate starting, finishing, lunch and break times.