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British universities may be particularly susceptible to covid-19

THE ANNUAL journey of more than 2m students to British universities is, as David Willetts, a former higher-education minister, has put it, a mass migration: “All it needs is Sir David Attenborough to provide an excited commentary as the convoys of heavily laden estate cars roll by.” This year, the migration has happened as case counts rise during a pandemic—with predictable consequences.

The impact is clear at the University of Leeds. Even in the autumnal sun, few students mingle beneath the hulking brutalism of its campus. With lectures cancelled and most socialising banned, life is to be found elsewhere. Helena Foulger, for one, is in her student flat. The first-year criminologist arrived in Leeds on September 16th. Eight days later she took a covid test, which came back positive. Two of her five flatmates have developed symptoms; all are isolating. “I think there’s one out of nine flats in our block now that hasn’t got corona,” she says.

The peculiarities of British higher education may make it especially vulnerable to the pandemic. More than a third of the country’s universities have already recorded cases. Despite plenty of warning, outbreaks appear to have taken national governments and many universities by surprise. At the start of September, the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) dedicated...

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