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Universities should be two-thirds empty, says public health expert

A leading public health expert has stated that universities should be two-thirds empty to avoid increased spikes in coronavirus infections.

This comes as freshers arrive on campuses across the country with tight restrictions in place and online learning quickly becoming the norm.

Professor John Ashton, a doctor and academic, argued there needs to be “far less density” in student populations in university towns and cities to prevent a national increase of Covid-19 cases.

172 students at Glasgow University have already tested positive for Covid-19, leaving 600 people in self-isolation.

Similarly, 32 students and two members of staff have tested positive at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), where disciplinary action has been taken against more than 30 students for breaking coronavirus guidelines.

The rational thing to have done would be for universities throughout the UK, within the whole educational system, to limit student numbers to a third of their normal populations

– Professor John Ashton 

The University of Manchester has also issues disciplinary action against students and is considering a curfew across residential halls due to the absence of social distancing, according to the Guardian.

In South Belfast, the Holy Lands district contains the highest density of students in the UK, where the Northern Ireland Police Service has threatened criminal convictions for students holding open parties.

Ashton remarked that it was “almost inevitable” that an influx of students would increase the number of Covid-19 cases and speaks as the former regional director of public health and regional medical officer for north-west England.

Professor Ashton stated that “the rational thing to have done would be for universities throughout the UK, within the whole educational system, to limit student numbers to a third of their normal populations. This would mean less density and make it easier to impose hygiene and safe distancing policies”.

He also remarked that “the one-third rule should have been extended until the end of this year at least and the two-thirds who aren’t on campus could be given socially useful things to do, like help out with open-air activities for schools and youth projects while the pandemic is dealt with”.

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