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New lockdown: Manchester University students pull down campus fences

By Larissa Kennelly
BBC News

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media captionStudents said they felt "trapped" and "imprisoned" by the fencing

Students have torn down "prison-like" fencing erected around their campus on day one of England's new lockdown.

Those living at the University of Manchester's Fallowfield halls of residence awoke to find workers putting up "huge metal barriers".

They were eventually pulled down as hundreds of students - who said they were not warned about the measure - protested.

The university apologised "for the concern and distress caused".

It insisted the fencing was not intended to prevent students from entering or exiting the site but to address security concerns, "particularly about access by people who are not residents".

But students said the fences, placed between buildings, blocked off some entry and exit points and left them feeling trapped.

Under the new lockdown rules in England, university students have been told not to move back and forward between their permanent homes and student homes during term time. The government says they should only return home at the end of term.

image copyrightEwan
image captionStudents said the fences surrounded the whole of Manchester University's Fallowfield campus

First-year management student Megan, who did not want to give her surname, said: "Morale is really low, we're really disappointed we didn't hear about this beforehand and about the fact it went up without any explanation.

"They're huge metal barriers, they're connected to one another and there's literally no gaps.

"There is fencing around the whole outside, we feel like it's completely unnecessary. It makes it feel like we're in a prison."

Fellow first-year, English literature undergraduate Ewan, said the 7ft (2.1m) fencing was a further blow to many who had already spent weeks isolating.

"It's not like living at home, we don't have a sofa, we have a kitchen and plastic chairs," he said.

"There's no way you can relax there. You're in a completely different city and you do feel lonely there and trapped."

image copyrightEwan
image captionStudents said the fences made them feel as if they had been imprisoned

Ewan was among those who attended the protest where much of the fencing was torn down.

"People were dragging them down and jumping on them," he said.

"We walked on the grass that was restricted by the fences. We did a lap of the whole campus."

The University of Manchester insists the fencing was to keep people out of the Fallowfield campus. Students accuse the university of "trapping" them within it.

Is the University of Manchester a coronavirus hotspot?

The prevalence of coronavirus at the University of Manchester's campuses has fallen dramatically in recent weeks.

The university's student population is around 40,000.

In the week to 5 October, when classes were first getting under way, there were about 2,940 cases per 100,000 among its students.

For the week ending 3 November, that figure has fallen to 162 cases per 100,000, according to data published by the university.

Data from Public Health England also shows that infection rates in the areas surrounding University of Manchester student accommodation have also tapered off.

Between the week ending 3 October and week ending 31 October:

  • Fallowfield Central rates have dropped from 5,256 cases per 100,000 to 527 cases
  • Hulme and University rates have dropped from 1,283 cases per 100,000 people to 191 cases
  • Victoria Park rates have dropped from 771 cases per 100,000 to 419 cases

Apart from Fallowfield, which had a very high peak, the case rates for other student areas in Manchester are below the average for the city as a whole, which stood at 456 cases per 100,000 as of 31 October.

The university initially insisted it had written to students informing them about the construction, but has since acknowledged work began "ahead of the message being seen".

In a statement, President and Vice-Chancellor Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell said the fencing was not meant to cause distress nor prevent students from entering or exiting the site.

It was intended, she said, to address safety and security concerns from students and staff, "particularly about access by people who are not residents".

"The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately," she said.

"Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place."

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