Covid-19 Student Return Health Issues

Last updated: 24th September 2020


Police keen to respond rapidly to local covid-19 breaches

Inspector Simon Arliss who leads our local Policing team shares the frustration that the issue of returning students from their initial lockdown homes, to take up residence again in their rented shared houses has still not been resolved.

However, in recognition of the sheer number of the covid-19 breaches, he is keen that his team should respond swiftly to all local reports of breaches to current ‘gatherings’ legislation whenever resources allow.

Thus where there are local gatherings outside of more than 6 people from more than one household or of one or more persons in a house where they do not live (except as permitted ‘bubble’ involving individuals who live alone), Inspector Arliss is now asking residents to call 999.

He has provided the following advice to residents calling 999 to report such gatherings, should the call handler still divert you to report on 101:

May I suggest that residents calling-in state that the local policing team are aware that COVID breaches are occurring and that they are keen to investigate thoroughly. Hence, notwithstanding the availability of police units, if officers are able to attend (whilst the suspected breach is occurring), that will help, considerably to ‘educate’ and ‘enforce’ and therefore deter further breaches.

Residents have now reported rapid attendance following 999 calls and hopefully this will now act as an effective deterrent to others.

A response from the University to the return of students into our community.

ESJF can confirm that the University authorities have now begun to engage with the Forum at a high level, though it continues to claim students are permitted to return to regroup and stay in their HMOs in Exeter despite having moved away immediately prior to lockdown. The lame justification offered is shameful, entirely contrary to all that Government Guidance is seeking to achieve and a clear attempt to make use of perceived loopholes in legislation. The Forum’s challenge continues, as the Steering Group works with councillors and residents’ associations to seek a satisfactory resolution.

Forum Press Release 20 June 2020

Such was the Forum's concern at the University's stance that a press statement was issued (reproduced below). Subsequently the University responded by justifying the return of students from all over the country, to live in their student houses for the final weeks of their tenancy contracts, by claiming this meets Government "moving home" guidance. However this guidance applies only to situations where new contracts are signed either for house purchase or new rental.

Click here to read Exeter University's response to the press release

Click here to see the Forum's reply 

Press Release Reyurning Students

Commitment from Exeter Community Safety Partnership

At the request of Karime Hassan, CEO Exeter City Council, Exeter Community Safety Partnership, a joint Police and ECC initiative, has confirmed its support, stating ‘guidance in relation to social distancing, as well as the specific guidance for those in higher education to which you refer, is not enforceable by the Police or Council. However, our officers will seek to encourage those who are not adhering to the guidance to comply wherever possible’.

University’s ‘top priority’ claim triggers Forum Press Release

On 19 June DevonLive publicised the serious concerns of a local resident at the huge influx of students who have returned to Exeter and are socialising in our community, with scant regard for covid-19 regulations. Fear of the potentially enormous increased risk of coronavirus infection was mentioned and the University of Exeter gave a brief response, commenting:

‘The health and safety of students, staff and the wider community is always our top priority.’

The evidence sadly does not currently support this and the response has led the Steering Group to conclude it could be silent no longer and has now issued the above Press Release to challenge this assertion. The only conclusion that can be reached from the advice issued by the University to students since 27 May is that this is mere rhetoric. Sadly the reality is that the University’s stance is responsible for substantially increasing the risk of a spike of infection in our community, with potential implications for the health of local residents and the speed of economic recovery.

The background: Disbelief and dismay at University’s stance leads to challenge on behalf of residents

Our reading from a trawl of relevant current Government Guidance documents is conclusive and unsurprising; students are permitted to return to Exeter to collect their belongings left behind in their term-time accommodation, but only if they can return whence they came without involving even a single overnight stay and adhere to social distancing and other regulations at all times. They certainly do not have permission to regroup in households, each of some 5 – 12 students, to stay for days or weeks back in St James. The University has been urged to make this clear following Cambridge University which has advised:

PHE advice at 02/06/20 is (also) clear that a general return of students is not yet permitted and, in particular, movements between households where this means moving into a new shared household should not yet be happening.

Exeter University continues to refuse to amend its stance, maintaining its interpretation of regulations is correct, though has repeatedly ignored requests to identify the specific regulations behind its advice. The Steering Group is grateful for the continuing and full backing of our City Councillors and D&C Constabulary Exeter Sector Inspector, Simon Arliss who remain as frustrated as we are. Karime Hassan, CEO Exeter City Council was alerted to the issues on 15 June, and a reply is currently awaited.

We have now asked our County Councillor, Su Aves, to brief Devon County Council’s Director of Public Health asking for investigation of the University’s interpretations of regulations as clarification and issue of appropriate advice to students remains vital.

Recognising the need for a Force-wide statement, Insp. Arliss has escalated the matter via the D&C Covid Command Chain and a definitive police response is expected imminently.

St James’ volunteers show real community spirit!

What a journey we have been on as individuals and as a community these last months! How heartening that so many volunteers came forward to offer help and support to those whose situations required it. Particular thanks go to our Resident’s Associations (RAs), in particular Bury Meadow RA that volunteered to extend the support it offered to its own residents, to those in St James who do not have an RA. Also to Debs Shine who together with Anne Jobson, ESJF Chair, set up a new support group for Old Tiverton Road and Luccombe Court.

Student volunteers praised for joining the community effort

Amongst these volunteers were a number of university students who opted to remain here in our community throughout lockdown and our special thanks go to them for their public-spirited involvement and adhering to covid regulations like the rest of us.

However, no-one in the community will have failed to notice the recent return of hundreds of other students who had left Exeter, dispersing around the country, when the University closed. This has created a very difficult and worrying situation in our community.



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