The Conservatives have hit out at those trying to score “political points” by claiming that students could have to remain at university over Christmas – despite their own MPs refusing to rule it out.
Reports appeared to surface after health secretary Matt Hancock himself did not deny the possibility.It followed the release of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) minutes which suggested risks of larger outbreaks of the virus are more likely to occur towards the end of the academic term, around the Christmas and New Year period.
SAGE said, “This could pose a risk to both local communities and families, and will require national oversight, monitoring and decision making.”
Asked about it on Times Radio, Hancock said: “We have said that students should stay at university until Christmas… We don’t rule out the suggestion you just made but I don’t want to have to say that. It is some time off.
“I very much hope that we won’t have to say that, but as I say I don’t rule it out.
“The important thing is in the short-term, students once they’ve gone to university should stay at university so as not to spread the disease.”
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden over the weekend also could not offer guarantees.
“I very much want students to be able to go home at Christmas, and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible”.
But MP Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservative Party, responded to reports by saying that there are no plans to keep students at university over Christmas and accused Labour of “deliberately creating unnecessary stress for young people to score political points”.
The Tory denial after the reports prompted anger from social media observers.
Martin Greenaway tweeted: “As usual, the conservatives will deny, deny, deny something, then leak the U-turn to somebody on Twitter at 10pm one night, and then announce it in a paywalled op-ed on a Tory donor’s news site the next day.”
“Let’s wait for the inevitable U-turn,” commented @ScottFunke.
“Oh of course! Instead of answering to criticism, the Tories rant about the Labour party. Pathetic,” said Susanne Neill.
“The Conservative Party, gaslighting anxious students and their parents,” posted Adam Fereday.
George Just added: “The government is going to have to be honest with people very soon that this years Christmas is going to be very different.”