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Education minister Vicky Ford did not rule out suggestions that the government plans to require university students to be double-vaccinated to attend lectures this autumn.
Ford was facing questions over a report in The Times on Monday that said Boris Johnson was pushing for the policy in a bid to tackle lower vaccine uptake among young people.
“We’ve always considered everything that we can do to make sure that all children and young people are safe in education,” Ford told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
“The key thing, as we know, to keep transmission down is to make sure that people get a vaccination.
“I would just say to all young people, as we had Gareth Southgate himself say yesterday, that if you want your freedom back please do go and get your vaccine.”
Ford had struck a more cautous tone on the matter when speaking to Sky News earlier, insisting vaccination would not become a requirement for young people on university campuses.
“We must make sure that we continue to prioritise education,” she said.
“If they want to be able to avoid self-isolation, such as we have said for other adults, the double-vaccinated adults by August the 16th if you have not got a positive test, if you don’t have symptoms, you won’t need to self-isolate.”
“For students who are returning to university that’s really important.”
Earlier on Monday, Ford also urged caution among the British public as coronavirus case numbers fell for the fifth day in a row for the first time since February.
The UK recorded 29,173 new cases on Sunday, down from 48,161 logged the previous Sunday, but experts have warned these figures do not take into account the full impact of the 19 July easing.
“We all know how quickly it can go back up again,” Ford told Sky News.
“I think it does show how important it is that we continue to take issues like self-isolation really seriously as well and continue to encourage people to get that vaccine, and the double vaccine, because that’s going to be the way that we get out of this longer term.”
She pointed out that schools had recently broken up for the summer holidays, which may be contributing to the drop in case numbers, although scientists have suggested this alone is unlikely to account for the scale of the drop.
Ford continued: “It may be that part of the reason cases have dropped somewhat is that we’re not detecting as many cases in younger people now.”The other thing we do need to look at before we really draw confidence in whether we are seeing everything turning round is what’s happening with hospital admissions and, of course, what’s happening with deaths.”
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage’s Spi-M modelling group, from the University of Warwick, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a drop in regular testing as schools break up could be a factor in the drop in cases.
“Testing clearly is very important, but it is true of course that when you test more you find more, and of course this is the issue that when you’re doing a lot more lateral flow testing, you’re going to find more positive cases,” he said.
“So, when that stops, it’s possible that cases may seem to go down, when infections may be not going down as fast.”
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