The union Unison is calling for emergency government action to provide test and trace facilities for thousands of university students and staff as they return to campus this week.
Union bosses said the government’s SAGE committee of medical and scientific advisors has warned that there will be ‘huge spikes’ in coronavirus in university cities like Sheffield as the new term starts.
Unison regional organiser Leonie Sharp said: “We have a major crisis now because although universities are hosting these national Covid testing centres they are not open as a priority for students and staff.
“These test centres have been outsourced by the Government to private companies such as Deloitte when they should be run by the NHS and priority should be determined locally not from a national call centre hundreds of miles away.
“The universities are asking that the facilities be available as a priority for testing and tracing the staff and students on campuses but are being told no such access is available.
“And in the meantime, our security staff are having to break up mass gatherings by groups of students in halls of residences contrary to the government guidance and the university instructions.
“This is a national crisis, risking the health of thousands of people and a huge increase in infections in those areas where universities exist.
“The government must listen to its own specialist advisors and make sure test and trace is immediately funded and provided in our universities.”
Ms Sharp added that some students were being told to travel hundreds of miles away to be checked while local authorities had been completely cut out of the test and tracing system.
She said: “Hull MP Diana Johnson has raised the issue in the House of Commons, and I have spoken to MPs and councillors in this region to get them to put all the pressure they possibly can on the government.
“They cannot ignore this threat to public health and must take urgent action now to make sure the test and trace system is fully working on every campus.”