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Covid: Welsh universities set for 'different' freshers' week

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image captionStudents will have to form a household bubble with their flatmates when they move into university halls

Students starting university this month are in for a "very different" experience, the president of a Welsh student body has said.

With coronavirus restrictions across Wales, students will see many typical freshers' events cancelled and have to form household bubbles with strangers.

Only six people from the same extended household can meet indoors in Wales.

Becky Ricketts, from National Union of Students (NUS) Wales, said loneliness would be a bigger problem this year.

One university said it has spent about £1m to make its facilities Covid-19 safe.

Ms Ricketts said: "I think there's a recognition that our welcome week is going to be very different this year.

"I think there's also the recognition across our student body that this is done to keep staff and students safe. Safety in our campuses is absolutely our number one priority to make sure that any activity that we do is safe for staff and students.

"At the moment all of our student unions in universities across Wales are holding online freshers' events, online welcome events to help with that social interaction."

image captionNUS Wales president Becky Ricketts said isolation and loneliness were likely to be bigger problems for students this year

She added: "There's also a limited amount of face-to-face interaction happening in line with the 'rule of six' and the new guidance given by the Welsh Government.

"Alongside this, universities are providing good mental health support to the students, because we recognise that isolation and loneliness will be a bigger problem than in previous years."

Cerys Maryan, a third-year student at Swansea University and part-time environment officer at the students' union, said she "didn't envy" those starting their first year this month.

"It's going to be completely different," she said.

"You'll be restricted to your household and you might not have common interests with one another, so you might not have that opportunity to mix with other people on your course or even clubs and societies. It will be really different so I don't envy them."

image captionThird-year student Cerys Maryan says students who have a lack of common interests with their new housemates may struggle

Will students have to form household bubbles?

Welsh Government rules apply to all students who will be studying in Wales, so those who move into university halls will have to form household bubbles with those who live in the same flat as them.

Under the current "rule of six", students will not be able to socialise indoors with any more than five other people, effectively ruling out spending time indoors with students from other flats.

Students can visit pubs and restaurants, but only with members of their household, again meaning students cannot meet up with friends from outside their bubble at pubs.

image copyrightColin Smith/Geograph
image captionStudents will be starting at Cardiff University over the next few weeks - but things will be very different to previous years

Swansea University and Wrexham Glyndwr University have both said students from different households should not meet indoors.

However, up to 30 people can meet outside.

Wrexham Glyndwr has also said overnight stays in student halls will not be allowed, while Aberystwyth University has advised students to keep at least two metres apart at all times and to avoid sharing dishes in university halls.

Can students have parties?

With coronavirus restrictions limiting the number of people who can meet indoors in Wales to six people from an extended household, students will be unable to have large house parties.

But, despite term not yet starting, Ali Morris, from Brynmill in Swansea, said she was woken up by a loud student party at 04:00 BST and found a group of 40 students partying on a street corner.

image captionBrynmill resident Ali Morris said parties had started over the last two weeks, ahead of the new academic year

"Over the last two weeks there's been a slow return of the student population back into Brynmill and I suppose with the combination of the nice weather we've had and the lockdown measures there's been a massive increase in garden parties, house parties and general noisiness around the area.

"There's definitely a concern around the Covid-19 situation because we've got students coming to Swansea from all parts of the UK," she said.

Swansea University said it was investigating whether any of its students were involved in the party and "appropriate action" would be taken against any student who breaks the rules.

What about local lockdowns and quarantines?

The University of South Wales (USW) currently has one campus under a local lockdown in Treforest, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

In a statement on Wednesday, USW said: "Students will still be able to move into their accommodation within the area, including in our university-owned halls of residence in Treforest."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionRhondda Cynon Taf went into lockdown on Thursday evening

But once students have moved into the accommodation, they will not be allowed to leave Rhondda Cynon Taf, and must wear face coverings in indoor spaces and only meet people from outside their household outdoors.

Meanwhile, any foreign students arriving from nations which are not listed as travel corridors, such as France, the Netherlands or mainland Portugal, will have to isolate for 14-days after they arrive at university, wherever it is in Wales.

£1m spent on making campus Covid-19 safe

Preparing for students' safe return has cost Cardiff Metropolitan University about £1m, according to president and vice-chancellor Prof Cara Aitchison.

Over the summer, it has installed "hi-tech solutions" to touch points like door ways, protective screens, new outdoor seating areas, and introduced one-way systems.

"It has cost us a lot to make these adaptations," she told BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement programme.

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