Three universities switch to online teaching amid calls for strike action

Published: 7th October 2020

The struggle to keep university campuses open appears to be unravelling, with three of the biggest higher education establishments in the UK calling for a suspension of face-to-face teaching.

At least 5,000 students and staff from over 80 universities in Britain have now tested positive for COVID-19.

The University of Manchester has reported over 1,000 confirmed infections and has now declared that face-to-face teaching will be suspended.

The numbers coincide with a new total of 14,542 new confirmed cases across the country as of Tuesday 6th October, a rise of 2,000 on the preceding day.

Of these, 76 have died with COVID-19, though it is unclear from the data whether they were elderly and also suffering from other serious comorbidities, both of which are known to heighten the risk of mortality.

2,383 were in hospital with the virus, but again there are no details as to whether they also have underlying medical conditions.

Manchester is currently one of the hotspots for viral outbreaks.

Both the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) have now taken the step of suspending classes and seminars.

Only a small number of specialist courses will continue face-to-face, while the rest will be taught online until at least the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the University of Sheffield has reported almost 600 positively tested cases among students and staff and will now teach only clinical courses face-to-face.

Northumbria University reported that 770 students had tested positive by Friday last week (2nd October).

Staff there voted at a meeting on Tuesday evening to ballot for strike action.

There were also calls for the vice-chancellor, Andrew Wathey, to resign.

However, evidence is mounting among medical experts that the government has unwittingly incited enormous undue public fear over the virus through its blanket lockdown measures.

An international group of scientists is now openly urging governments across the world to switch policy away from blanket measures towards shielding high-risk groups only and allowing the less vulnerable to return to normal life immediately.

The proposal for targeted shielding has been drafted in Barrington, Massachusetts by three research scientists: Dr Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford University; Dr Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University; and Dr Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University.

Dubbed ‘the Great Barrington Declaration’, it has already attracted thousands of prestigious scientific signatories.

The declaration raises “grave concerns” about the “devastating” consequences of prevalent blanket COVID-19 policies for short and long-term public health.

These include deteriorating outcomes for cardiovascular disease, reductions in cancer screenings, worsening mental health, and decreased childhood vaccination rates.

Maintaining these policies in the hope of a vaccine “will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed”.

It recommends instead an approach that its authors describe as “Focused Protection”, as vulnerability to death is over a thousand times higher among the elderly and infirm, while in children the virus is less dangerous than common influenza.

The declaration states: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.”

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