A number of Manchester Metropolitan University students self-isolating in a Covid-19 lockdown have raised claims they are being falsely imprisoned.
Lawyers at a chambers which specialises in human rights and civil liberties have also questioned the legality of security staff enforcing the 14-day isolation of 1,700 students at two accommodation blocks in the city.
While a Liverpool-based law firm appealed through social media to students at Birley campus and Cambridge Halls to seek its help “pro bono”.
Students described being scared and confused as their accommodation was locked down on Friday after 127 people tested positive for coronavirus.
Bosses at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) told students that following discussions with Public Health England and Manchester City Council, the decision was “deemed necessary” to prevent the spread of the virus to other students, staff or the local community.
The university added: “We appreciate this self-isolation period will present difficulties for you, especially coming so soon after your arrival at the university.
“We are here to support you, and our staff are working hard with local partners to make this period more manageable for you.”
STUDENT UPDATE: For students who are self-isolating in Birley & Cambridge Halls. Please check your inbox for an important email, which has updated info on:
🔸Food deliveries🔸Laundry 🔸Rubbish 🔸COVID-19 testing 🔸Financial support & more
— Manchester Metropolitan Uni (@ManMetUni) September 26, 2020
On Sunday, Dominic Waddell, 21, a first-year filmmaking student, told the PA news agency: “I have heard people mentioning claims of false imprisonment. There’s a great deal of anger, people aren’t very happy with how the university’s run it, considering we’re the ones that allow them to keep running because we’re the ones that give them this money and now they’re locking us in the homes we’re paying for so it’s very frustrating.
“People are trying to make the most of it, playing board games and watching TV with your flatmates but I don’t really see how long we can keep that up with all these new people that you barely know – it’s going to be pretty difficult to keep a lifted spirit.”
Adam Wagner, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said he was “dubious to say the least” about the possible legal basis of the student lockdown.
He tweeted: “If there are students (or parents of students) who are being detained in their accommodation blocks by security staff, I would suggest urgently requesting confirmation of the precise legal authority they think they are acting under.”
His colleague, fellow barrister Rabah Kherbane, tweeted: ” The idea of an immediate notice, large-scale effective imprisonment of first-year students, with 24-hour enforcement by accommodation security, is slightly surreal. The LA (local authority) has not clarified powers/conditions met.
“@ManMetUni please inform your students they can seek legal advice.”
The MMU branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said they had “nothing but sympathy” for the students and their families.
In a statement issued on Sunday, it said: “As a union we warned senior managers that the outcome of returning to campus in the manner they proposed would be the situation we are now seeing unfold.
“We have said this repeatedly in formal and informal meetings, and in writing. Our warnings went unheeded.”
The university says it has stepped up food deliveries in partnership with a local supermarket but said the self-isolating students were not permitted to travel to a nearby Covid-19 testing centre in Denmark Road while it works with local health services to provide alternative arrangements.