Tighter restrictions for University of Exeter students after rise in Covid-19 cases

University of Exeter students have been asked not to meet indoors with anyone who is not part of their household for the next fortnight.

More than half of Covid-19 cases confirmed in the city in the previous week have been attributed to the university, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

This has mainly from students unwittingly arriving having already been infected elsewhere in the country.

Now, following discussions with Public Health England, Devon County Council and Exeter City Council, the university is asking students to take the additional measures to avoid further local restrictions.

A coronavirus ‘cluster’ in the Pennsylvania and University area of Exeter stands at 48 cases, according to government statistics from today (Tuesday, September 29).

The latest data map includes lab-confirmed positive cases reported by September 27 – with specimen dates between September 19 and 25.

Clusters, where there have been three or more confirmed cases in a week, have also been recorded in St James Park and Hoopern (seven cases), St Leonard’s (three) and Middlemoor and Sowton (three).

The figures are based on Middle Super Output Areas (MSOA) in England – broken down into zones of around 7,200 people.

From yesterday (Monday, September 28), students who live in Exeter are being asked to not to meet indoors with anyone who is not part of their household for the next fortnight.

The only exceptions to this are for study, work, organised sport, or in an emergency situation where people are in danger.

A University of Exeter spokesperson said yesterday: “We are seeing a continued rise in student Covid-19 cases and, although at this stage there is no evidence of wider community transmission, we are taking further action in Exeter to control the spread of infection.

“We have agreed with Public Health England, Devon County Council and Exeter City Council that now is the time to ask students living in Exeter to take significant additional measures.

“This is necessary to avoid further local restrictions, of the type already seen in a number of other universities.

“So, for the next 14 days…we are asking students who live in Exeter not to meet indoors with anyone who is not part of their household.

“The only exceptions to this are for study, work, organised sport, or in an emergency situation where people are in danger. We will keep this measure under regular review.

“This does not mean that students cannot go out, but they should not socialise in other people’s residences, and outside their current household they must observe the rule of six and all other social distancing measures at all times.

“The health and welfare of our students, staff and wider community will always be our number one priority, and our Rapid Response Hub is co-ordinating testing and working with Public Health England and the national track and trace programme to share details of any positive cases.

“We are working with local health teams to be proactive and prevent the spread of infection to the wider community.

“We will take all actions required and continue to communicate directly with students on the necessity to follow Covid-19 rules fully.

“The vast majority of students have behaved impeccably but where students break the rules we will take action, including sanctions such as suspension and expulsion.

“We are also providing a wide range of support for students isolating from online groceries and activities to targeted wellbeing support.”

Dr Virginia Pearson, Devon’s director of public health, added: “Overall, the county still has relatively low case numbers in comparison with many other counties.

“But like many university cities, the city of Exeter has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases since the start of the university term, now accounting for more than half of the county’s total 116 cases.

“These cases are contained – they remain predominantly in the student population and centred around a small number of households in a small area of the city – and we see no evidence at this stage of the infection spreading within the community.

“Public Health Devon is working closely with the University of Exeter, Exeter City Council and Public Health England, and a comprehensive programme of measures imposed by the University is in place to reduce the risk of infection.

“Our analysis indicates that infection is passing between individuals largely in social and residential settings rather than in educational settings, which is why the university is asking students not to meet indoors with anyone other than those in their households for the next 14 days, except in some circumstances.

“We are monitoring the data extremely closely so that we are able to respond quickly and assess whether those current measures are sufficient, or whether further and tighter restrictions will need to be adopted locally.”

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