CONCERNS student house parties could create concentrated coronavirus spikes in North-East communities already under local lockdown have been raised.

Residents in densely populated areas of Durham are worried the return of 20,000 young people to the compact city could lead to a rise in the infection rate.

There are fears young people may not heed warnings and continue to enjoy aspects of the traditional university lifestyle, such as drinking and socialising, which will inevitably spread the disease.

Durham University is taking measures to make campuses ‘covid secure’, but community leaders have said people are worried about the influx of students into residential areas this month.

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Young people in Durham on Monday 

Councillor Alan Doig, vice-chairman of the City of Durham Parish Council, said: “One of the problems with closing down the nightclubs is that students are going to have parties.

“Pubs are not going to let big groups in, so they are going to go to Tesco, get their cheap booze and have a house party.

“Near the viaduct, where there are whole streets of students, they are going to go into each others’ houses.

“They are coming back and will see their friends.

“It is in their DNA to have a good time and as most of them are not going to get symptoms that are going to put them in bed they are not going to see Covid is a risk to their health.”

Some areas of Durham are made of students by 65 to 80 per cent, but locals use the same services such as shops, bars, cafes and hairdressers.

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Councillor Alan Doig

Cllr Doig said: “We would say that there is a significant risk of a spike in a place like Durham where the student population outweigh the permanent population, which is primarily elderly.

“Because of the size of Durham students have to mix with the local population with a much greater frequency than you would in a big city.

“There are risk factors and you have got to mitigate them. I do not think the university has been particularly good in that mitigation process.”

Durham County Councillor Richard Ormerod, who also sits on the City of Durham Parish Council, said students are part of the community and have their part to play in reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

He said: “The fear is that lots of different people from different parts of the country are coming to one place where we have already got additional lockdown measures in place.

“There is a lot of concern about that. There is some worry in the community.

“Students like to socialise and there is always the possibility of parties, which are very popular in Durham. There is always a chance, where, if there is a lot of alcohol around, things might get of hand.

“Not everyone takes this as seriously as they should. Many are away from home for the first time and it is a time of great excitement, but it needs to be a bit different this year.”

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Mary Foy MP

Durham City MP Mary Foy has had two meetings with the university vice-chancellor, Stuart Corbridge, about precautions the university is taking.

She said: “It seems they have plans in place for the students arriving and the teaching and learning.

“The big issue is how they manage the student socialisation.

“The Government has encouraged young people to go out and socialise again, and now they seem to be getting the blame for the rise in Covid numbers.

“The problem will be the conflict between the student population and those local residents that live their permanently.

“Obviously there will be concerns and there will be students who do not follow guidelines and break the rules.”

Durham University has said it is working ‘at pace’ to review and amend plans as necessary for the safe return of students.

Professor Claire O’Malley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global) at Durham University, said: “We are looking forward to welcoming our students to Durham, where they can expect a world-class education and student experience that prioritises their health, safety and wellbeing, as well as that of our staff and wider communities.

“We are working closely with other agencies and services to ensure our planning is co-ordinated and we are in regular contact with local residents and representatives, including the City of Durham Parish Council, to share our planning and receive feedback.

“We are all part of the Durham community and we all have a duty to help keep each other safe. We are communicating regularly with our students to remind them of the latest Covid-19 guidelines and have updated our Student Pledge to reflect these responsibilities.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said measures in universities including limiting travel into campus, staggering class times over extended days, and reinforcing hand hygiene, to keep students and local residents as safe as possible.

She said: "This is a challenging time for us all, and I recognise that some residents in university towns and cities such as Durham may feel nervous ahead of the start of the academic term.

“But I want to reassure the people of Durham that every effort is being made by the Government and universities to ensure that students return to campus as safely and sensibly as possible.

“But I have been clear that health advice only works if we all follow it and I am urging students, just like the wider public, to do their bit and act responsibly.

"I have faith in students that they will follow the guidance and by doing so protect their family, friends and local communities, and ensure campuses can remain open.”

Adam Deathe, a manager with the Durham Business Improvement District, said students volunteered to help out when lockdown began in March and were keen to help not just with their economic input but with community support.

He said: “To have 17,000 people come into the city and live as part of that community is a lifeline to business.

“It has never been more important to have the students here. They will be the difference between some businesses failing and surviving.

“A lot of businesses are going to spend the next eight to 12 months struggling and students are being encouraged like never before to shop locally.”