By Max Kendix
Some colleges have moved freshers’ week activities online after reports of freshers mixing households, including with other colleges. Several colleges have seen confirmed Covid-19 cases, including among freshers’ representatives (‘freps’), who help new students move in.
In a meeting on Wednesday evening, freps at University College were told that all activities for freshers’ week, which ends on Sunday, would now be held online if possible. Freps are also barred from going into the college, including for food, unless they live in college accommodation. Yesterday morning, one household at the college went into self-isolation.
Yesterday afternoon, representatives at St. Mary’s College made a similar decision to stop face-to-face activities after a frep tested positive for Covid-19. At least three households are also isolating in its college accommodation.
Palatinate understands that a frep at Josephine Butler also tested positive, with all relevant households isolating as a result. The college has since cancelled their in-person freshers fair for today and tomorrow, and is running a reduced number of events with fewer freps.
Those living in college accommodation in St Cuthbert’s Society received an email recently from the college’s Principal, Professor Elizabeth Archibald, saying: “We have received disturbing reports that some of you have entered the accommodation blocks and the households of other students, and have visited other colleges, contrary to the University’s Covid-19 rules and Government legislation, and that social distancing rules are being ignored”.
Some students in St Cuthbert’s Society are self-isolating. An email from the college warned: “If some of you continue to break the rules, we may have to impose a lockdown on the whole college. Please don’t make all livers in suffer because of your selfishness”.
Professor Tom Allen, Master of Grey College, also warned of severe consequences for reported rule-breaking in a recent email to freshers, saying that “many people seem to forgetting” relevant rules on masks and mixing households: “I’ve received disturbing reports that a number of students who arrived by yesterday have not been following social distancing rules. Some have been abusive to staff or freps who are seeking to ensure that the rules are followed.
“If I see or hear about anyone who is deliberately flouting the rules, that student could find themselves out of the college before the end of the day. Permanently.” There have since been reports of some freshers from the college mixing with another college.
In a statement to freshers, Ferdinand Schultz, Senior Student at University College, said: “On Wednesday night and Thursday in the early morning hours I received multiple reports from other colleges that small groups of Castle freshers were in their premises and accommodations/bars […] I appreciate that this was a very small number of people who acted with little to no regard to the governmental and local guidelines.”
Mr Schultz told Palatinate: “It was beyond our ability to stop this. While we made sure that everything was fine here in Castle accommodation we are unable to keep an eye on all of Durham. I know the Presidents and their frep teams did everything they could to stop this.
“As a consequence of people mixing their household we did not feel comfortable to send our freps in households anymore as we were not able to vouch for their health and safety.”
One frep at University College agreed with the decision, but was disappointed with some freshers: “It’s really sad and disappointing to cancel the events we had worked so hard to put on, I was hoping the new freshers would be more compassionate towards the freps and their safety. That being said, the students’ welfare is now the main priority given some communal spaces will now be closed.”
Students found to have broken Covid-19 rules, which currently include a complete ban on mixing with other households in any indoor or private setting, can face serious repercussions.
In an email to returning students this afternoon, Professor Wendy Powers, Principal of University College, wrote that sanctions can include “verbal warnings, written warnings in a student’s official university record, £500 fines, community service, and/or expedited referral to Senate Disciplinary Committee which may result in suspension or even expulsion”.
Trevelyan College is also understood to have at least two confirmed cases of Covid-19, with three households isolating.
Several other universities have been facing cases of Covid-19 as freshers move into accommodation. In the biggest university outbreak, Northumbria University has seen 770 cases, with 78 showing symptoms.
Elsewhere, there are at least 21 confirmed cases in St. Andrews, 94 at Newcastle, around 10 in York, and 154 in Edinburgh. Durham has not disclosed the number of confirmed cases at the University.
Representatives at St Mary’s College have been contacted for comment. A senior representative at Josephine Butler College declined to comment.
Image: Charlie Oliver