The Speaker
Friday, 8 December 2023 – 20:17

Are COVID-19 cases falling in university areas?

‘Just to sort of give everybody some hope, if you look at what is actually happening with the universities, for instance, they have done a great job, I think, in getting their virus under control’

Many social media users found this statement from Boris Johnson rather surprising at the end of the Downing Street press conference on Tuesday evening.

Thousands of university students are currently in lockdown in student accommodation, as universities experience some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in England. 

Analysis by The Speaker last week showed how all of the 20 areas in England with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the 7-day period up to 9 October all contained a university or could in some way be related to a nearby university.

COVID-19 cases have risen sharply in many university areas since the return of students last month, so to be told that universities ‘have done a great job’ doesn’t seem immediately right to many studying in the Higher Education sector.

So, does the latest data support the claim made by Boris Johnson?


Improving situation in university areas

The 19 MSOAs (Middle-Layer Super Output Areas) listed below all contain a university or are in some way related to a nearby university. These 19 MSOAs were, in the latest 7 day period, the worst places in the whole of England for the number of COVID-19 cases being reported.  

  • The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in these areas in the 7 days ending 16 October was on average lower than in the week ending 11 October.
  • Durham City, which includes Durham University had the most confirmed cases of any MSOA area in England in the latest 7 day period, recording 616 cases. This was however 60 cases less than in Week 41*, where it recorded 676 cases.
  • The number of weekly cases has fallen significantly in parts of Nottingham in the last 7 day period. 
  • The number of weekly cases has increased in the last 7 day period compared to week 41 in areas in Blackburn, Bristol, York and Loughborough. 

*The latest 7 day period slightly overlaps with week 41.



University areas still currently worst in the country for COVID-19 cases

The data above would indicate that the Coronavirus is starting to be brought under more control in university areas. The areas listed above also contain non-student residents, though it seems highly likely that the return of students last month was a significant factor in their number of recorded cases now being so high.

While cases are falling in many university areas, many of these still have a very large number of cases compared to the vast majority of areas in the country. 

The situation does appear to be improving, but whether universities ‘have done a great job… in getting their virus under control’ is a matter that can be debated.

COVID-secure measures and the availability of testing has varied at different universities. Notably, there was no national testing campaign or compulsory isolation period for university students when they returned to campuses and university towns and cities last month – something which many feel has led to such a high number of COVID-19 cases in university areas.

While cases are falling in many university areas, students are concerned over what may happen next, especially at Christmas and over the new year period going into the Spring term.

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