EXCLUSIVE: Government rejects university hall quarantine idea

By Dan Peters | 01 September 2021

The Government has dismissed calls from the nine regional chief executives to allow international students from red-list countries (RLC) to quarantine in university halls.

Council chiefs warned ahead of an expected surge in managed quarantine hotel demand in August and September that capacity was already ‘fully stretched’ and called for an ‘urgent review’ of the decision not to use higher education accommodation.

They urged the Government to consider approving the idea of universities letting students quarantine in halls.

But, in a letter to local authority leaders, health secretary Sajid Javid said the Government was ‘confident’ there was enough space in quarantine hotels - the number of which would be increased – and warned of the dangers of using university accommodation.

The letter read: ‘Isolation of RLC students in university accommodation is not a suitable option in England, as these students will arrive from different parts of the world with different epidemiological risks (and prevalent variants of concern).

‘Evidence from the sector as supplied by UUKi [Universities UK International] suggested that only a minority of institutions had the potential to offer the accommodation and support services that would allow them to meet the requirements set out in the MQS [Managed Quarantine Service] standard operating procedures.

'Securing the necessary public health assurance for bespoke solutions – in a scenario where different individuals will be arriving from multiple high-risk countries into one cohort – would not be feasible in the time available or deliver meaningful alleviation of MQS capacity.

‘International students are a highly valued cohort and it is our aim to ensure that we welcome them, providing a safe and high-quality quarantine experience while also undertaking our duty to protect public health.’

A Local Government Association spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the public health concerns that mean government wants to ensure everyone arriving from a RLC quarantines safely but remain keen to ensure councils are consulted before new facilities are opened and to explore options that minimise pressures on local services and communities.’

The Government is currently seeking views from councils to understand their ‘willingness and capacity’ to undertake a greater role in supporting those required to quarantine at home after international travel.

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Health Whitehall Local Government Association Chief executives Public health Sajid Javid Consultation Coronavirus
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