Over the last few days, the Parish Council has received a number of complaints and concerns in relation to Durham University students who have returned to Durham City. Many relate to whether students should have returned to the City, and the apparent numbers involved, and a number concern the lack of social distancing and groups of students in public areas of the City. In some cases, alleged breaches of the Covid-19 lockdown measures have also been reported to us.
The national guidance on students returning to their location of study state as follows:
“Those students who are undertaking training and study for the following courses should return to face to face learning as planned and be tested twice, upon arrival or self-isolate for ten days:
Medicine & dentistry, Subjects allied to medicine/health, Veterinary science, Education (initial teacher training), Social work, Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled (your university will notify you if this applies to you).
Students who do not study these courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least Mid-February. This includes students on other practical courses not on the list above.
If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time. For those students who are eligible for face to face teaching, you can meet in groups of more than your household as part of your formal education or training, where necessary. Students should expect to follow the guidance and restrictions. You should socially distance from anyone you do not live with wherever possible.”
This being the case, the Parish Council were advised in correspondence last week that Durham University’s Executive Committee (UEC) believes it is unrealistic to assume that the Covid-19 crisis in the UK will dissipate sharply enough in the second half of February 2021, or even in the first half of March 2021, to suggest that students in the UK will be allowed to return to their campuses en masse at that time. Accordingly, the UEC and the University Council have agreed that all teaching and learning at Durham University, with the exception of a very small number of programmes, will not only be wholly online until 19 February, which is in line with the new Government advice issued last week, but will remain wholly online until the end of the Epiphany teaching Term on 19 March 2021.
Durham University students were last week advised again to stay where they are during the UK’s national lockdown. Where they are not currently resident in Durham, the University has advised that students should not return to Durham City before the start of Easter Term 2021.
The Parish Council wants to make it clear that whilst the vast majority of us, including students, are sensible, we follow the rules and are clear that we must stay at home to protect lives, sadly a small minority now living in our community appear to be breaching the lockdown rules and guidance, thus putting the health and wellbeing of our residents at risk. In the context of a new, highly transmissible variant of this virus and over 1,000 daily Covid-19 related deaths nationally, breaches of these rules and guidance are quite simply unacceptable.
The Government and the Met Commissioner are clear that all breaches, or perceived breaches, of the Covid-19 lockdown measures must be reported via 101. The Met Commissioner has also made it clear that those individuals who break lockdown rules are now increasingly likely to face fines.
Locally, Durham University continues to fund additional resources in the form of the Community Response Team who are working in partnership with the Police to ensure proper enforcement of these regulations.
In view of the feedback that we are receiving from our local residents, however, the Parish Council is seeking a meeting with the Chief Constable of Durham Police in order to gain reassurances about the operations being undertaken to enforce the Covid-19 regulations. This includes ensuring that all 101 calls are dealt with swiftly and appropriately by all call handlers as well as ensuring that all members of the Police force are aware of the Community Response Team’s role in Durham City to help support the Police. It also includes the possibility of increasing the visible presence of Police on the streets of Durham to encourage sensible behaviour.
The Parish Council recognises that this pandemic has put an incredible pressure on the Police – who are all putting their own health at risk to protect us all – and the Parish Council hopes to work collaboratively with them, Durham University and the County Council to resolve issues of shared concern.
In addition to this, we are aware that at times the legislation can be unclear and, in some cases, what is currently only ‘guidance’ and therefore non-enforceable, we feel ought to be upgraded to ‘regulations’. The Parish Council has therefore contacted the local MP Mary Foy to ask that she lobby Government further on this matter.
Whilst the rollout of vaccines offers new hope that 2021 will see a return to some normality in our daily lives, that stay at home message is more important than ever.
Thank you for your continued support.
The City of Durham Parish Council