Universities in Edinburgh have been advised to postpone freshers’ week activities in September due to the risk of Covid-19.
A Scottish government advisory group has warned that a proportion of students will arrive on campuses in Edinburgh and across Scotland for the 2021/22 academic year with one vaccine dose, and that “mass activities” could increase the spread of coronavirus.
This comes after news that Scotland has the highest Covid rate in Europe, with six Scottish health boards among the top 10 worst-hit regions in Europe.
Edinburgh has seen positive Covid cases surge in the last two weeks, with the weekly rate leaping to 582 cases per 100,000 people.
Significant outbreaks of Covid were linked to student accommodation last year, and universities accounted for 3% of all Scottish coronavirus cases between September and November.
The advisory group said there should be appropriate advice for students entering halls of residence, as well as regular testing, and support for those who have to self-isolate.
It stated: “Recognising the higher levels of risk associated with the start of the academic year (due to lower levels of vaccination, the likely state of the epidemic, the impacts of the travel, and the establishment of new student households), institutions will wish to pay due consideration to the nature of freshers’ week and other mass activities at that stage.
In response to government advice, the National Union of Students (NUS) urged that students be treated fairly.
It’s got seeded into our biggest, dense city in Glasgow, and we’ve got less natural immunity because we haven’t been at the top of this league table throughout the pandemic
– Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director
Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland president, said: “The health and safety of students and staff is of central importance, and that is why NUS Scotland have been calling for the acceleration of vaccines amongst the student population as a priority, giving them as much protection as possible before the return to campus.
“Students must be treated fairly – we are keen to work with the Scottish Government to develop coherent guidance that ensures parity for student associations if pubs and bars are open and able to host unofficial freshers’ week events.”
Jason Leitch, national clinical director, warned that Scotland’s comparatively poor Covid figures are due to the spread of the Delta variant.
He said: “It’s got seeded into our biggest, dense city in Glasgow, and we’ve got less natural immunity because we haven’t been at the top of this league table throughout the pandemic.
“It’s not a league table I want to top, and I want to get us off there as quickly as we possibly can.”
On 2 July, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that all health boards in Scotland will have drop-in vaccination centres from Monday, offering all adults over the age of 18 a first vaccine – or second if it has been over eight weeks since the first – even if they have an appointment.