Scottish students banned from pubs and restaurants this weekend

24 September 2020, 18:25 | Updated: 24 September 2020, 19:42

Scottish students told they cannot return home to visit parents
Scottish students told they cannot return home to visit parents. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Students in Scotland have been told they are banned from visiting pubs and restaurants this weekend following outbreaks during Freshers' Week.

Announcing the changes on Thursday evening, it said that all Universities have been told to strictly enforce the rules and that more staff will be placed on campuses to ensure compliance.

After a meeting with Scottish ministers, Convener of Universities Scotland Professor Gerry McCormac said: “University leaders share the Scottish Government’s complete commitment to keeping the student population and the wider community safe.

"We have already implemented strict measures to ensure the safety of the university environment, both for teaching and for student residences.

"We have seen the majority of students live up to our expectations of responsible behaviour, but a minority have not.

"Everyone across the nation shares the concern at seeing students in residences test positive for the virus and we will act decisively to deal with this.

“The additional actions we will take to drive down the transmission of the virus in student accommodation build on the wide-ranging measures already agreed with Scottish Government.

"Taken together, we are confident that these will help significantly to control the virus in student accommodation and impact on the number of positive cases; after the inevitable time-lag caused by some existing cases not yet being symptomatic."

He added: "We appreciate this isn’t what students would have expected from their first few weeks at university, but it is critical that they play their part in suppressing the virus.”

Read more: Glasgow tightens coronavirus restrictions after rise in cases

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead MSP, told reporters: “This is a welcome package of additional actions, building on the clear guidance that is already in place, to support all students and staff adhere to the rules and stay safe as they make a welcome return to study.

"We expect everyone to comply with public health advice and, as new laws come into force tomorrow, it’s even more important institutions make every effort to ensure the rules are understood and followed – and appropriate actions are taken if not.

"We know that these are difficult times for many students and we are grateful to them for the sacrifices they are making to protect themselves, their fellow students and the wider community.”

It follows the announcement that students will be banned from returning home to visit their parents to avoid the spread of the virus outside of university campuses.

Student accommodation should be treated as a new household, the Scottish Government said, and mixing with other households would be a breach of the rules.

The announcement came from the country's National Clinical Director Professor James Leitch, who tweeted the clarification on Thursday afternoon.

"Was asked last night whether students in halls and flats can go back to parents’ homes," he said.

"To clarify, they are a separate household. There are exceptions, eg caring responsibilities, but the law is clear: they can’t meet indoors with another household – even mum and dad. Sorry."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised to students following the announcements for "making this special time of your lives so tough" but reaffirmed the need for them to follow the rules.

"But it won’t be forever and the more we get the virus back under control now, the sooner you’ll get a bit of normality back," she said.

"So, please do what’s being asked of you."

The Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland warned the restrictions could be an infringement on students' human rights and said it would be seeking to discuss the restrictions with the Scottish Government urgently.

I follows a major outbreak of Covid-19 at several universities in Scotland, with illegal parties during Freshers' Week being blamed.

Most recently, more than 600 students at the University of Glasgow were identified as being at risk when contact tracers identified two "significant" coronavirus clusters at the Murano Street and Cairncross Halls of Residence - with 124 new cases reported this month.

A student at the University, who asked to remain anonymous, told LBC that he attended parties last week and later tested positive for Covid-19."I would imagine I picked it up some time over Freshers' as there was some form of social event or party going on somewhere every night," he said.

"I went to some of them - even if they were just big gatherings outside - but with me personally now end up getting Covid-19...I would feel worse about if I'd given it somebody who would suffer more from the virus than just me having it.

Read more: University of Glasgow student 'regrets' going to parties after Covid-19 outbreak

"In regards to parties, I do regret going to as many as I did, but I think the attitude was that is was kind of inevitable, we were going to end up with it at some point.

"It's completely changed - there's nothing going on a night at all - I think nearly every flat in my block is isolating now."

In Dundee, 500 Abertay University students were asked to self-isolate this week in student accommodation where three people have tested positive.

Professor Leitch warned yesterday that he is "very concerned" at the situation.

Nicola Sturgeon said the "significant outbreak at the University of Glasgow" had impacted on the daily Covid-19 infection figure for the NHS Greater Glasgow area.

In England, the scientists on the SAGE group have told the Government that many students should avoid heading home over the Christmas season to see family, especially if they have been attending parties or other large gatherings.

It remains unclear whether students in England should be allowed to return home to see parents at Christmas.

Asked whether he was considering a ban on visits during the holidays, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters: "We have said that students should stay at university until Christmas... we don't rule out the suggestion you just made but I don't want to have to say that. It is some time off.

Read more: Quiz: How well do you understand the UK's new coronavirus rules?

"I very much hope that we won't have to say that, but as I say I don't rule it out.

"The important thing is in the short-term, students once they've gone to university should stay at university so as not to spread the disease."

Downing Street also did not rule out such a move in the event of outbreaks.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "What is important in the event there is a specific outbreak on a campus is that steps are taken to ensure that the virus is not spread more widely."

The Department for Education spokesperson told LBC: “The Government is working closely with universities to ensure they are well prepared for the return of students, and we have published guidance to help them keep students and staff as safe as possible.

“Students should follow the latest health advice, just like the wider public, which means they should stay at university in the event that they have symptoms, have to isolate, there are additional restrictions imposed locally, or there is an outbreak on campus or in their accommodation.

“We will continue monitoring the situation very closely and follow Public Health England advice, adapting policies to best support students and providers.”