Fears return of students could add to city’s coroanvirus woes

Major concerns have been raised for Liverpool communities where thousands of students will soon be moving to as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the city.

Liverpool, like the rest of Merseyside, has been placed on a government covid-19 watch list because of the rapid rise in infections in the city.

This means the virus situation in the city is being closely monitored and there could be further lockdown restrictions imposed here if things don't improve.

One major concern for the city is that the imminent return of thousands of university students could exacerbate the already precarious situation.

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While universities in the city are working on detailed plans to ensure their campuses are as covid-secure as possible, there are real worries in communities with high student populations of what could happen next.

Cllr Laura Robertson-Collins represents Greenbank ward on the city council, an area that includes areas like The Dales around Smithdown Road where there is a large proportion of students living in multi-occupancy homes.

She says local residents – many of them older and more vulnerable to covid-19 – are really worried about the coming weeks and months.

Cllr Robertson-Collins said: "I'm extremely worried about a spike in areas such as Smithdown, Greenbank and Kensington Fields.

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"The universities are working hard on supporting and protecting students, staff and others – but the issue of students in the HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation) and other houses and flats in the wider community is difficult to deal with and needs specific focus.

"This is particularly as these houses tend to be in areas already under pressure , and very densely populated, with many vulnerable and older residents.

"The Council's Public Health Team and Landlord Licensing Team and Anti-social Behaviour team are all working with staff from the University of Liverpool's management and academic staff from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, and councillors are having input also, but some resources dedicated to supporting students and the public organisations including Police will be required from our universities."

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She said that in particular she would like to see the city's universities provide a single point of contact for enforcement around parties and gatherings in these areas as well as links to university disciplinary processes for students not following the coronavirus rules.

Cllr Robertson-Collins added: "There will be issues with gatherings, lack of social distancing, noise etc, especially in student houses.

"Residents don’t know who landlords are, landlords often aren’t interested and residents don’t know which institution students are at. Having one point of contact to complain to and universities sharing data and taking disciplinary action would be really helpful.

Cllr Laura Robertson-Collins

"We are looking at 10,000s of young people arriving from across UK, living in close proximity to one another and to neighbours in terraced streets.

"All support that can be provided to support these young people and make sure they are aware of their wider responsibility to neighbours must be provided as soon as possible."

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Following Cllr Robertson-Collins' concerns, we spoke to Professor Louise Kenny, Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool about the range of measures being put in place.

She said: “Students play an important role in the life of the City and we are looking forward to welcoming them back.

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"We have been working with partners, landlords, accommodation providers and other universities in Liverpool to undertake careful, detailed planning for their safe return.

“Like all other groups in society, students have a responsibility to adhere to government guidance to keep themselves and others safe.

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"We have provided our students with detailed information on the measures we have put in place for their safety and the steps they need to take and we will continue to communicate with them regularly on this important issue.

"As part of our partnership working with other universities in the City, we have also developed a joint Liverpool Student Pledge which will see students signing up to play their part in keeping themselves and others safe.”

On-campus safety measures

Professor Louise Kenny said: “The University has been at the forefront of regional and national efforts to respond to the pandemic and we are well placed to use our expertise and facilities to put in place innovative measures to help protect our staff and student community.

“Measures to make sure our campus remains a safe and welcoming place to live, work and study include, but are not limited to: new arrangements to ensure that safe, socially distant study space is available across campus; phased arrival of students back onto campus; a teaching schedule that reduces the number of students moving around the campus at any one-time; one-way walking routes; enhanced cleaning regimes and hand sanitising stations; the provision of free, washable face coverings; contact tracing; and access for all students and staff with symptoms to free COVID-19 testing on campus, with results provided within 24 hours, to complement any testing arrangements available publicly at the time.”

On campus test and trace

Professor Louise Kenny added: “As part of our cross-City work with all universities and public health services, we have developed a free on-campus testing service.

"Open seven days a week to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, it will provide results within 24 hours."

"The results will also be issued to the individual’s GP, local public health, NHS Test and Trace and to the University to support early outbreak management.

"To complement this service, an app has been developed for the university community which provides a daily wellbeing check and symptom monitoring.

"Any symptom monitoring data the user consents to share will provide a daily feed to the University to help highlight any clusters within specific groups and take early action.”

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