WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

Questions for the University of London about Covid-19

15 October, 2020

‘Our health and safety as local residents is being trampled on to the benefit of global capital’

• I WRITE regarding the possible risk of Covid-19 transmission from students living in the University of London’s halls of residence in Cartwright Gardens, to the local community in Bloomsbury and King’s Cross.

As co-chair of the tenants’ and residents’ association for a council block located in King’s Cross about 100 metres from the university’s halls of residence, I first wrote to the university outlining my concerns on September 9.

Given the seriousness of the issues I raised with them, I was disappointed that they did not even bother responding to my initial emails. I had to chase them several times before I finally received a reply.

I was beginning to feel the university had disdain for the local community and this feeling was exacerbated when I finally got to see their Covid-19 risk assessments for the halls.

This was because the assessments did not include the risk of Covid transmission from the students to the local community and consequently there were no control measures in place to prevent this risk. It’s as if we don’t exist!

And this in spite of there being a clear requirement on the university to protect our health and safety under both the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Health and Safety at Work Act.

At a Camden Council District Management Committee meeting in mid-September I raised my concerns about the failure of the university to fulfil their statutory obligations towards us.

In response the public health officer for Camden and Islington said that he had met Camden / Islington universities that day – and admitted that they were “slightly behind the curve”.

Why so? After all it was predicted in advance of the start of the academic year that there was significant risk of viral transmission from bringing university students back on campus – particularly so in halls of residence. Also by that stage we had begun to see huge Covid-19 outbreaks in universities across the country.

Bringing together students from around the country and the world, many of them away from home for the first time, who are of an age group in which research has shown are least likely to social distance, who are more likely than others be asymptomatic, and are of an age group in which the increase in the R rate was at its highest, and then crowd them together in shared accommodation, was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

But this potentially explosive mixture is amplified in connection with the University of London and their halls. The university is not a campus which is easily isolated from the local community, as students are straight out of the front door into the local bars and restaurants etc.

This is made worse right now because the university has closed two out of four of its bars as part of their Covid-19 control measures. So students are more likely than usual to be drinking in pubs.

Also, the halls of residence are located on the edge of the King’s Cross ward, one of the poorest wards in Camden, where many residents live in overcrowded housing and there is a large Bangladeshi community (a recent council report into the impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities found that Bangladeshi and Somali families lived through lockdown in Camden in overcrowded conditions).

Poverty and overcrowded housing are key drivers for viral transmission. If there is a Covid-19 outbreak at the university and it spreads into the local community it is going to hit very hard.

I have been in email contact with Public Health Camden and Islington who have sent me updated information of what the university are doing to prevent transmission among students while on campus. But I have yet to see anything on what the university are doing to prevent the risk of virus transmission from their students to the local community.

Universities are big business – global business in the case of the University of London which has international financial backing. Unfortunately it seems that our health and safety as local residents is being trampled on to the benefit of global capital.

SARAH FRIDAY,
Co-Chair, Medway Court Tenants’ & Residents’ Association

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