The vast majority of Scottish university and college students are expected to work from home until early March and will then only be allowed back onto campus in stages, the Scottish government has said.
Ministers have scrapped plans for a staggered return to college and university which had been due to start on 25 January, with only students who are already living on campus or with critical teaching needs allowed to be campus.
Apart from a second group of students close to graduation who must study on campus, who will be allowed back from 15 February, everyone else must remain working from home, said Richard Lochhead, the higher education minister.
Halls of residence were epicentres for major outbreaks when students arrived universities in August and September last year, with significant hotspots in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
Lochhead said: “The return of students to campus, including returning to term-time accommodation, involves the mass movement of thousands of people across the country. The mixing of people on that scale, including the potential movement of tens of thousands of students to university halls and private-rented flats, simply isn’t safe right now. It would fuel the virus, and that is something no one wants.
“Our immediate priority right now is to say to students, other than in specific special circumstances, they must not return to their campus or term-time accommodation before they are specifically told to do so by their institution.”
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Scotland’s chief constable, Ian Livingstone, has urged people to report any incidents or suspicions of domestic abuse to the police after warning the renewed lockdown could lead to an increase in domestic violence cases.
Livingstone said protecting vulnerable women and children living in risky situations at home “goes to the heart of our purpose, goes to the heart of our mission”.
Speaking during the Scottish government’s regular coronavirus briefings, he added: “We would urge anyone, everyone with concerns about another person – a relative, a neighbour, a friend or a colleague, to call the police.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, said the “stay at home” order in force across mainland Scotland did not mean victims of domestic abuse had to endure it. The restrictions “do not prevent you from leaving home”, she said. Additional funding had been given to women’s aid and anti-domestic violence charities, she said, to support women in crisis.
Coronavirus rates have begun to “creep up again” in Wales after beginning to drop in the post-Christmas period and the new variant has a “firm foothold” in the north of the country, the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford has said.
“On Monday, there were around 440 cases per 100,000 people in Wales. Today, this is more than 20 points higher,” Drakeford told a press conference in Cardiff.
“It is still the case that around one in four tests is positive for coronavirus, and that demonstrates that we still have very high levels of this virus circulating in the community in Wales.”
Drakeford said the new strain of coronavirus was “undoubtedly adding to the pressures that our NHS is experiencing at the moment”.
More than 2,700 coronavirus-related patients are in Welsh hospitals, with 143 people with Covid-19 in critical care beds.
“Overall, the number of people in critical care has reached the highest point in the pandemic,” he said.