Students have been ordered to live under tough new guidelines amid warnings they may not be able to return home for Christmas if outbreaks at campuses are not brought under control.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he is not ruling out asking students to stay on campus over the festive season, as he urged them to avoid unnecessary visits home before then.
His plea came as coronavirus clusters continue to break out in halls of residence across the country, including in Aberdeen.
Last night, all Scottish universities agreed to “make it absolutely clear” to students there “must be no parties and no socialising outside their households”.
A statement released by the Universities Scotland group said: “Breaches will not be tolerated.”
And young people were also urged “not to go to bars or other hospitality venues”.
The group described the sanction as a “necessary step at this crucial moment of managing the virus in the student population, to protect students and the wider community”.
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “To all students – I’m so sorry Covid-19 is making this special time of your lives so tough. But it won’t be forever and the more we get the virus back under control now, the sooner you’ll get a bit of normality back. So, please do what’s being asked of you.
“Please self isolate if advised, follow rules on socialising & household mixing, remember FACTS & download
. Unis have a big responsibility to look out for your welfare – especially if you are isolating – and I know they take that seriously. Thank you.
“And to clarify one point: today’s @uni_scot advice to students to stay away from pubs/hospitality completely is just for this weekend – it’s an attempt to stop current outbreaks spreading further.”
Earlier in the day, Mr Hancock refused to rule out forcing students to stay away from home over Christmas.
He said: “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.”
Two separate cases of the virus were confirmed at North East Scotland College’s Aberdeen campus earlier today, however no college contacts have been identified and its operations have not been impacted.
At Aberdeen University, 72 residents in Wavell House have been asked to self-isolate after 16 students in separate clusters tested positive.
Police officers were called to disperse large gatherings nearby just days before the outbreak.
In Dundee, 500 Abertay University students are self-isolating in student accommodation where three people have tested positive.
And at the University of Glasgow, social activity around the start of freshers’ week is being blamed for 124 youngsters having tested positive and more than 600 having to self-isolate across two of its residences.
Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch warned he is “very concerned” at the situation.
He said: “We need to be very, very careful.
“Even though most of those cases will not get serious illness, some of them will and some of them will potentially spread it to the community.”
Mr Leitch added that students staying in halls or flats should not be visiting their parents’ homes as they are now a separate household.
The prospect of being confined to campus is not proving a popular one with students in the north and north-east, though.
Florence Jansen, president of the University of the Highlands and Islands Students Association , says the rise in cases was “inevitable given the decisions made”.
She said: “Many of our students would not have returned to their accommodation if they had not been encouraged to do so by the government, and especially if they thought that they would not be allowed to return home as a result.
“Despite this, our students are doing their very best given the current circumstances, and their welfare is our main priority as always.
“What has to be remembered, is that students are just normal people. They need to follow the guidance like everyone else and are not to blame for the escalation of cases across the country.”
An Aberdeen University Students Association spokeswoman added that young people there were “disappointed” at the idea of being stuck on campus until December.
She added: “We are aware that the possibility of not being able to return home for the winter break causes disappointment for some, but we are making sure those who stay in Aberdeen are supported.”