STUDENTS STRAIN THE SYSTEM
Warning to freshers as fears grow of campus outbreaks
SCOTLAND’S Covid-19 testing system will be stretched to its limit with the return of university students, experts have warned.
Four universities have been hit by outbreaks even before most courses are due to start this week – and authorities are urging students to obey socialising rules or face disciplinary action.
As fears grow of a coronavirus second wave, experts warn students in need of tests will pile pressure on laboratories, which are struggling to turn around results quickly.
There have been 20 cases at Napier University in Edinburgh as well as cases at the universities of Glasgow and Stirling.
St Andrews University went into a voluntary lockdown over the weekend.
The University of Dundee has brought in a temporary ban on overnight guests in halls of residences – a move others may follow.
Students are expected to live in small household groups, in line with Covid-19 guidelines, and obey social distancing rules. But there have already been complaints about parties and anti-social behaviour.
Across Scotland, 22 testing centres are being set up in towns and cities but experts fear if students fail to follow guidelines on gatherings over the coming weeks, the testing system could be overwhelmed.
Allan Wilson, president of the Institute of Biomedical Science, said: ‘Students don’t just come from around the country, they come from around the world. There is an inherent risk.
‘My concern would be if there were further outbreaks, like we had in Napier. It may mirror what happened with schools going back, putting pressure on the testing system.’
Teaching has begun at seven universities, with six others starting back this week. Five more resume classes over the next fortnight.
There are plans for testing centres near campuses but so far only two have opened – in Glasgow and St Andrews.
But some returning students are partying as normal. Residents near Napier University’s Bainfield halls, which was at the centre of its covid outbreak, reported last week there was a party attended by at least 100 students.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘To be frank, we should have had walk-through testing centres set up before students went back.
‘Even though there is a lot of effort to get students to follow guidelines and not mingle in halls of residence, they are young adults – so that will be their natural inclination. That’s just a basic fact. So you are going to need testing capacity.’
Mary Senior, Scotland official at the University and College Union, said: ‘This week’s outbreak at Napier University underlines the need to have testing capacity accessible to students as soon as possible.’
Clusters of cases forced universities in France and the US to close shortly after reopening. On Friday,
National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch said he feared outbreaks among university students. He added: ‘You can see at Napier University how easily and quickly the virus can spread from household to household. Whether that’s a student household or your own home, it’s the same message.
‘It’s hard to tell freshers and people who have just come back to university after a long break to obey guidelines and I get how difficult that is, but you have to.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We are establishing walk-in centres across Scotland over the autumn and winter, with an initial focus on areas with a large student population. There are no hold ups in the deployment of walk-in centres.
‘The first one opened in St Andrews and another has just opened at Glasgow Caledonian University’s ARC sports centre – and we are on track to have four more sites set up in the next two weeks. The walk-in centres are open to anyone.’
‘Going to need testing capacity’