Locked down Manchester Metropolitan University accommodation residents made "scapegoats" over coronavirus outbreak, says Yorkshire student

Students in lockdown at Manchester Metropolitan University have been left feeling like "scapegoats", according to one.

Monday, 28th September 2020, 7:09 am
Seth Shuttleworth (picture courtesy of Seth Shuttleworth)

Seth Shuttleworth is among the hundreds of students not allowed to leave their flats at the university's Birley campus.

The 19-year-old psychology student from Ilkley told The Yorkshire Post that students in his accommodation and at nearby Cambridge Halls were given less than an hour on Friday evening to go and get food before they would be banned from leaving the building, with the exception of the smoking area or for medical emergencies.

It follows a coronavirus outbreak among students – with 127 testing positive.

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A man wearing a facemask at Manchester Metropolitan University's Birley campus where hundreds of students have been told to self-isolate

Mr Shuttleworth was one of the students who tested positive for Covid-19 after developing symptoms on September 16, with his flat of 12 students having already been in quarantine for seven days when the university lockdown was announced on Friday.

"We feel like scapegoats," he said.

"We are being blamed for this outbreak, but shouldn't the Government be taking some responsibility for letting thousands of students move to Manchester but not provide sufficient testing for everybody?

"If they have made the decision that it is safe for students across the country to go to university, they should have made sure there were provisions in place."

Manchester Metropolitan University's Birley campus where hundreds of students have been told to self-isolate

Mr Shuttleworth said there were concerns among students about having enough food. Arrangements were made for supermarket chain Asda to create delivery slots, although only 46 slots have been provided for 1,700 students in quarantine.

Some had already taken the decision to return home before the lockdown was announced, while Mr Shuttleworth added that many were already seeing huge impacts on their mental health.

"We are essentially paying £9,000 a year to be stuck inside and sitting on Microsoft Team twice a week," he said.

"I understand it's not the university's fault, but there should at least be some compensation. This is not what we should be paying for."

Pictures on Saturday showed the windows of MMU halls of residence bearing signs such as, "HMP MMU" and "let us out, Boris", and students have reportedly been sent emails by the university asking to remove them.

Lawyers at a chambers which specialises in human rights and civil liberties have meanwhile questioned the legality of security staff enforcing the 14-day isolation of 1,700 students at two accommodation blocks in the city.

Adam Wagner, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said he was “dubious to say the least” about the possible legal basis of the student lockdown.

He tweeted: “If there are students (or parents of students) who are being detained in their accommodation blocks by security staff, I would suggest urgently requesting confirmation of the precise legal authority they think they are acting under.”

The MMU branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said they had “nothing but sympathy” for the students and their families.

In a statement issued on Sunday, it said: “As a union we warned senior managers that the outcome of returning to campus in the manner they proposed would be the situation we are now seeing unfold.

“We have said this repeatedly in formal and informal meetings, and in writing. Our warnings went unheeded.”

The university added that it had stepped up food deliveries in partnership with a local supermarket but said the self-isolating students were not permitted to travel to a nearby Covid-19 testing centre in Denmark Road while it works with local health services to provide alternative arrangements.

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