FMQS: Routine Covid testing in universities to be 'examined' after cases soar

The Scottish Government will examine the case for “routine testing” of students to stem the rising tide of Coronavirus cases in universities, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Thursday, 24th September 2020, 12:43 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th September 2020, 2:30 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister told MSPs today that 465 new cases were recorded in Scotland yesterday, down from 486 the previous day, but back at the levels from the previous height of the pandemic. There have also been two more deaths.

There were 219 cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, with much of this associated with a “significant cluster” at Glasgow University, Ms Sturgeon added.

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There are now 84 people in hospital across Scotland and 10 in intensive care.

Ms Sturgeon warned that numbers are likely to keep rising in the coming days, underlining the importance of the fresh restrictions set out this week including a ban on visiting other homes.

“If we don’t act now the danger is the virus will continue to spread and even more severe or longer lasting restrictions will be required later,” Ms Sturgeon said.

"If we can start to reduce the number of cases over the next few weeks we will be better placed for the winter ahead.”

Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson called for testing now to be ramped across universities to stem the rising number of cases.

"It's clear from the figures emerging this week that an increase in infection rates is being driven from within the student population,” Ms Davidson said.

"In Glasgow around half of all cases that have been identified, have been identified within the university. "There's a clear concern that it could spread, particularly given the number of students that travel into uni from neighbouring areas then return home."

"The First Minister has previously accepted the need for routine testing across care homes - will she now examine the case for such routine testing across Scotland's university campuses

Ms Sturgeon said: "We will always examine the case for that."

But she said ministers must be careful that routine testing does not become a "pass" out of observing obligations.

"There is a real risk of false assurance coming from negative tests," she added.

Universities minister Richard Lochhead has been in talks with the sector amid concerns over rising cases among the country’s student population since Higher education returned.

“We will set out some further measures later today," Ms Sturgeon

"These will be measures about prevention, about making sure all of the guidance is being properly and rigorously implemented in campus and student accommodation, that student understand their obligations, but also that universities are properly supporting students."

The SNP leader acknowledged the situation will be difficult for students who have been ordered to self-isolate in student accommodation.

But she insisted that the growing number of positive tests is down to Scotland's test and protect system working.

But she added: "There is more we can do to prevent cases."

More university “walk-in centres” are on the way, Ms Sturgeon added, with two already up and running in St Andrews and Glasgow, and other to follow soon in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dundee and Stirling.

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie demanded to know what proportion of the new cases are accounted for in student accommodation and asked when walk-ion centres would be operational

He added: "The truth is outbreaks like this should have been expected and support and testing sites should have been in place before term started.

"A bit like the cruise ships at the start of this pandemic, opening student halls has brought people from far and wide together in densely populated accommodation providing the perfect conditions for the spread of the virus."

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also raised student coronavirus cases, and said the government had "missed the boat" in testing international students.

He asked the First Minister to rethink the government's approach to routine testing of asymptomatic students. "We need to do more to track down the virus. As a significant proportion of people with the virus don't know they have it, the risk of unknowingly spreading the disease is there - we need to help them find it," he said.

Nicola Sturgeon said she knew how difficult it was for students and families "in reality not just theoretically" as she was a member of a family "worrying about a student". She said international students had an obligation to quarantine, as it was "more effective than testing" in containing the virus.

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