The University of Birmingham recorded 307 student infections during the week ending October 6, a rate of 1,023 per 100,000 population. It was six times higher than the local council rate.
The University of Manchester had the highest student infection rate per capita, with 1,155 cases reported in the week ending October 6, or 2,888 per 100,000 population. This was more than five times higher than the rate of local authorities.
The analysis looked at 10 of the largest universities by student population in England and Wales for which Covid-19 data was available. In all but two universities, the University of Liverpool and the University of South Wales, infection rates among students were higher than those of the total local population during the same period.
Figures by local government area were correct as of 4:30 p.m. on October 9.
While the numbers don’t prove the virus is spreading from universities to the wider community, experts said significantly higher student infection rates posed a significant risk to public health.
Professor Gavin Yamey, director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke University, which leads research into the spread of Covid in higher education, warned: “It is impossible to hermetically seal students and staff of the community at large. ”
Referring to a study that found that the reopening of US universities and colleges at the start of the summer contributed to more than 3,000 new cases daily in their area, he added: “I am horrified that UK universities have not learned from the great debacle of the reopening of American universities. ”
Martyn Moss, the University and College’s (UCU) North West England regional manager, said student areas of Manchester, such as Fallowfield, were reporting skyrocketing infection rates. He added: “We are in a nightmare situation where large numbers of asymptomatic people can transmit the virus to high risk groups in the local community.”
Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol and a member of the Independent Sage committee, said student outbreaks would have a huge effect if young people chose to ‘go home and bring the virus with them or if they mingled with the community. “.
He added: “We should not blithely accept the spread of this virus, which I think some universities may be guilty of. ”
A spokesperson for the University of Manchester, which moved online education until October 30, said local council and the city’s universities were knocking on doors to reassure students and remind them of local restrictions and national pandemic issues.
Sarah Doran, a public health consultant who is leading Manchester’s response to Covid-19, said a pilot project to mass test students in halls of residence was a factor in the reported high numbers. She added, “Additional walk-in testing is being offered this week in Fallowfield – for students and local residents.”
A spokeswoman for the University of Sheffield said she had suspended most in-person classes until October 19 due to rising infection rates among students and the wider community.
A spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said students had direct access to testing on campus and more testing was being conducted in the city than in many other parts of the UK.
A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council added: ‘There is no evidence that Covid has spread from college dorm students to the wider community, but it is being watched closely.’
A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents 137 higher education institutions, said: “It is more important than ever that the government commits to a strategy of mass testing for students and staff. academics with rapid feedback of results and effective traceability of contacts. ”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said: “Universities are ready for a local outbreak and we have been working with them to help develop action plans for positive cases on campus or if there are positive cases on campus. increase in local cases. ”