The government’s plans for easing restrictions in colleges risk institutions becoming “incubators of Covid", the University and College Union (UCU) has said.
Last week the government announced that once England moved to step four of restrictions, face coverings would not be needed in colleges, and social distancing would also no longer be required. Rules around who has to isolate will also be adjusted, and contact tracing will be transferred to NHS Test and Trace.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said it was “inexcusable that the prime minister is pushing responsibility for managing the pandemic on to the shoulders of individuals and employers whilst Covid rates are climbing rapidly”.
She added that after the chaos that colleges and universities had experienced over the past year, robust health and safety measures to limit further Covid outbreaks were needed, and said that calling for people to be cautious was “simply not good enough”. “Staff and students need clear guidance that masks must remain in place to lower the risk of transmission,” said Ms Grady.
Scrapping Covid safety measures 'leaves colleges at risk'
“The scrapping of public health measures once again leaves campuses at risk of being incubators of Covid, and this is especially dangerous for those who are clinically vulnerable or immuno-suppressed. The government needs to quickly change course and meet with education unions, the National Union of Students and employers so we can jointly agree safety measures, and ensure students and staff are confident that campuses are as safe as possible.”
Ms Grady said infections and hospitalisations were rising and much higher levels of vaccination were needed so population immunity could be achieved. “The government needs to speed up vaccine rollout and give students the opportunity to receive a double dose of a Covid vaccine prior to the start of the next academic year. Students’ education and health will be put at further risk unless the government listens to these commonsense demands,” she added.
Announcing the easing of Covid restrictions last week, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that, after balancing the risks, he had decided that most restrictions should be lifted as the country entered step four of the Covid recovery roadmap. It was confirmed today that this will take place on 19 July.
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.