This morning, Rachael Maskell MP spoke with Michelle Donelan MP, the Universities Minister to highlight significant concerns about the return of students later this month and the delay in having sufficient testing facilities available.
It is without doubt that both the University of York and York St. John’s have gone to extraordinary measures to keep students, staff and the wider public safe as 40,000 students are about to commence their studies in York. The University Campus has been set up as a Covid-secure campus, where face coverings are to be worn throughout the campus, inside and out, hygiene and social distancing measures will also play a pivotal role in safeguarding against infection.
In meeting with the Minister, the MP for York Central raised the deep concern that the hoped for testing facilities could take two months to be in place, an issue she also raised with the Health Secretary yesterday. She put forward suggestions to urge for there to be a deployment of a mobile testing facility, until a more permanent walk-in centre was in place ahead of term commencing. She stressed that this must be available for all residents in York, in the light that regular testing is not currently available.
Ms Maskell further asked the Minister to ensure that all Universities had additional mental health support available. Students will be facing new pressures this year, as jobs will be far less available than usual making finances harder, students could be isolated and away from home for the first time and feel incredibly lonely, and for others the challenge of the last six months has also taken its toll.
She raised other questions about the commencement of the academic year and the impact that this could have on the city. Above all, the MP stressed that the city needed to feel safe and the impact of the measures taken must be reviewed to ensure that no one feels at risk.
On Wednesday, the MP also met with Emma Hardy MP, Shadow Minister for Higher and Further Education to raise similar issues.
Rachael Maskell MP says:
“I am doing everything I can to ensure that York residents and students are kept safe as we enter this next phase of the pandemic. The seriousness by which our colleges and universities have taken biosecurity measures demonstrates that they will leave nothing to chance, and recognise that this is a difficult time for residents and students. The key to a safe start to the term is the ability to test and contact trace. I have been working with public health professionals to make this case and have placed fresh ideas before the Minister today.
“Many students will also be ‘shielding’ and will have underlying health conditions. It is important that universities are supported to meet their additional needs as they start this academic year.
“The Minister, in response said that should there be an outbreak of infection then the Local Resilience Forum will be able to deploy a mobile testing facility, however this is too little too late. I will be relentless in making the case at every opportunity for York residents and incoming students to be able to access testing. I know that with the start of the school year, already there is significant pressure on the system, but the Government have also failed to ensure that there was resilience built into their test and trace capacity. This is unacceptable, not least at a time when Covid-19 infection rates are doubling every week.”