UNIVERSITIES BACK: Covid cases expected to rise
University of Salford, Image: LDRS
Covid cases are expected to rise in the city-region as thousands of students return to universities across Greater Manchester over the next few weeks.
Public health bosses are bracing for a rise in the coronavirus infection rate as new students are welcomed to universities in Salford, Bolton and Manchester.
Students and staff will be asked to wear face coverings in certain settings and social distancing measures will remain in place to prevent the spread of Covid.
Vaccination clinics will also be set up for Freshers’ Week when students arrive.
It comes after the infection rate rose rapidly across the city-region last year.
Hundreds of students tested positive in the first few weeks of the academic year and many soon found themselves locked down in their halls of residence.
There are hopes that the Covid vaccine will help slow the spread this year.
However, Salford council’s deputy director of public health Gillian McLauchlan explained that younger people have been more hesitant to take the vaccine.
She said: “We have advocated that the students are vaccinated before they arrive, but we know many will come unvaccinated.
“So we are ready and plans are in place, working very closely with the university so we can provide vaccination clinics when the students arrive.”
McLauchlan said that vaccinations are not mandatory, but the local authority has ‘strongly advised’ students are vaccinated before they arrive in the city.
The University of Salford will be welcoming around 20,000 students in the coming weeks with roughly 60 pc of them commuting from across the region.
Vaccine clinics will be set up for anyone who has not had their first jab before arriving and a second dose appointment will be booked in immediately after.
The council is also concerned about students having missed other routine vaccinations during the pandemic such as the meningitis and mumps jabs.
But the already high infection rate is the main cause for concern, McLauchlan said.
She added: “It’s not something unique to the schools and universities, but it’s just when you have more mixing, we have more cases and when you have high levels of community infection, then the numbers will potentially increase there as well.”
Salford currently has one of the highest infection rates in Greater Manchester with 970 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the week up to September 8.
Covid levels increased in all but one borough during that seven-day period.
However, despite being aware of the rise in cases, the University of Salford said it has ‘moved to a position of living with Covid within our communities’.
A spokesperson said: “The safety of our staff, students and wider community is our core priority. We are continuing with control measures such as wearing face coverings in certain settings, maintaining a level of social distancing, and have risk assessments for places and activities across the organisation.
“We will be encouraging all students who are able to, to get vaccinated and will be hosting a vaccination clinic on campus to support this.
“As we have throughout the pandemic, we will be closely monitoring cases on campus and have tried and tested processes in place to actively track and trace students and identify potential outbreaks. This is done in close consultation with colleagues from Salford’s public health teams.
“A daily dashboard is circulated with weekly meetings in place to support the monitoring process as are regular meetings with universities and public health representatives from across Greater Manchester.”
The University of Bolton will be welcoming approximately 2,200 new students who will be starting on campus this September – but the vast majority will be living in Bolton and the surrounding areas, not arriving from all over the UK.
A university spokesman said the campus is a ‘very safe’ environment and that government guidelines are being followed – although some have been relaxed.
Students will have a choice as to whether or not they wear face coverings when mixing with others, but the university hopes they will choose to do so.
Temperature scanners, a one-way system and a track and trace programme will also remain in place on campus, according to the university spokesman.
The university continues to campaign to encourage staff and students to be double jabbed. A vaccination bus will be on campus this Thursday and Friday and at the start of next week to make this as easy and convenient as possible.
The spokesman added: “Unlike a lot of the region’s larger universities many of our students are local and already live here and in the surrounding areas.
“As a result, we do not have to move a lot of students around the country.
“Whilst we remain concerned about the national pandemic situation, which poses a serious risk to public health, it is difficult to see how the University of Bolton would compound the situation with all the measures we still have in place. It is a very safe environment on campus.”
New full-time students at the University of Bolton will be enrolled this week and induction activities will take place, including the Freshers’ Fest events.
The first week of teaching will start next week on Monday (September 20).
Manchester Metropolitan University’s autumn term started earlier this week with the Freshers’ Week events kicking off on Saturday (September 11).
A spokesperson for Manchester Metropolitan University said: “We are delighted to be welcoming students back to campus for face-to-face teaching.
“Obviously, the wellbeing of our students and staff remains a top priority.
“We are following government guidance and working closely with local public health agencies to ensure we have plans in place to deal with the ongoing Covid-19 situation.
“This includes encouraging our students and staff to take vaccinations, and we have a pop-up vaccination centre on campus.
“We have asked students to take Covid-19 tests before they travel back to the University, and will then encourage them to test twice-weekly once here.
“We continue to remind everyone of the importance of hand hygiene and encourage the use of face coverings in crowded areas.
“We are also providing financial and wellbeing support where necessary.”
Like the University of Salford, teaching at the University of Manchester will begin on Monday (September 27), although some inductions have started.
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester said the university is ‘really looking forward’ to seeing students back on campus in the coming weeks.
Full details and advice for new and returning students are available online at: https://www.welcome.manchester.ac.uk/get-ready/health-wellbeing-safety/ and https://studentnews.manchester.ac.uk/2021/08/25/covid-safety-measures-when-you-return-to-campus/
Words: Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter
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