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Students: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 181469, tabled on 15 April 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what the scientific basis is for students returning to term time accommodation on 17 May 2021 rather than prior to that date.

Answered on

20 April 2021

Whilst we recognise the positive social and economic benefits students bring to the towns and cities they live in whilst at university, the government roadmap is designed to maintain a cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, to reduce public health risks and help ensure that we can maintain progress towards full reopening.

Any return of the remaining students is not considered in isolation but as part of the government’s overall roadmap. All areas included in the roadmap, as well as higher education, are informed by advice from the scientific and medical experts, where data and evidence is considered regularly. This includes the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England, and the Chief Medical Officers.

It is important that we continue to take a cautious, but irreversible, approach to reopening. Moving too fast, too soon, risks a resurgence in infections, hospitalisations, and deaths. Our careful approach to relaxing restrictions gives time to assess the impact of each step and to reduce the risk of having to reimpose restrictions at a later date.

We have worked extremely closely with scientists and SAGE to understand and model various scenarios to inform our plan that seeks to enable us to re-open the country without putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS. We have also examined economic and social data to get a balanced understanding of the impacts of carefully easing restrictions. The government has also carefully considered data on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown on ethnic minority communities, the vulnerable, the young, and low income groups.

A wealth of data, papers and evidence is being published at the same time as the roadmap to ensure transparency on the information that the government has made available in reaching its decisions. This includes the following information from Public Health England:

  • Information on vaccine effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccination
  • A surveillance report with a more detailed summary of the findings so far from Siren and Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI)- Watch
  • A technical paper on the SIREN analysis as a pre-print by the Lancet

Papers from SAGE include:

  • Minutes from the last four SAGE meetings
  • Children and Task force Children’s Task and Finish Group (TFC) paper: COVID-19 in higher education settings, 10 February 2021
  • Three papers from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) with a summary of modelling on scenarios for easing restrictions, together with the supporting papers from modellers at Warwick and Imperial universities
  • A collection of papers from SPI-M on “relaxation of NPIs and the re-opening of schools” and the Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (the behavioural experts’ sub-group of SAGE) on return to campus for the spring term and the risk of increased transmission from student migration
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