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UNIVERSITY TERM: No Covid spike from student return

UNIVERSITY TERM: No Covid spike from student return

General views of Newcastle University

The return of tens of thousands of students to Newcastle has not brought about the same dramatic spike in Covid cases seen in 2020, relieved city health chiefs say.

12 months ago, the start of the new university term brought about a huge rise in infections in the city – with thousands of cases among Newcastle and Northumbria students in a matter of weeks.

But public health bosses have instead reported that case rates have remained steady this time around, with no major outbreaks seeming to have been caused by recent large events like the Great North Run or This is Tomorrow festival either.

Vaccination rates among students are also said to be extremely high, with above 90% having received at least one jab.

Latest figures from Newcastle City Council show there have been 966 new positive coronavirus cases in the city in the last seven day, equating to a rate of 319 per 100,000 people.

While that would have been considered an extremely high rate at earlier stages of the pandemic, it is below the current England average and is similar to the numbers being reported in Newcastle a month ago.

By comparison, Newcastle’s Covid infection rate peaked at almost 1,000 per 100,000 people in October 2020 after the two universities’ 50,000-plus students returned.

Rachael Hope, of the council’s public health team, told the Safe Newcastle Board on Thursday: “What has been interesting is that last year we experienced quite a spike with some of the student population returning, and obviously people congregating, in terms of transmission.

“We are not seeing that at the moment. We have had some very large scale events, which have been mainly outdoors and very well managed, but we are not necessarily seeing a link to transmission of cases as we may have expected.

“And as the universities have gone back, we have some brilliant partnership working programmes and they have very effective Covid control plans in place.

“We are not seeing a significant rise in cases… Newcastle University surveyed around 12,000 students, there was a 7,000 return rate and over 90% of students had had either first or second vaccinations.

“That uptake in the younger population is very positive and is also something we are seeing in local data. Our 18 to 25 population has a very good uptake and that is something to celebrate, that we have a very well engaged and informed younger age group.”

Coun Clare Penny-Evans, the local authority’s cabinet member for public safety, said positive news on vaccination takeup was “really reassuring” after the sight of anti-vaxxer rallies in the region.

A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “We are encouraged by the good response from our students to the offer of a vaccination. We continue to reiterate Covid safety messages, and also host the vaccine bus on our campus every Thursday to ensure that any student who has not yet had their vaccine has the opportunity to do so.”


Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter

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