University students will only be allowed to return home to their families at Christmas if the public follows the new coronavirus lockdown rules, a cabinet minister has said.
The government is under pressure to guarantee young people are not confined to their halls of residence over the festive period because of Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses.
Thousands of students are currently self-isolating in their rooms following a surge in cases at institutions including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.
Labour has asked education secretary Gavin Williamson to “ensure that every student has access to testing to allow a safe journey home” for Christmas.
But culture secretary Oliver Dowden told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I very much want students to be able to go home at Christmas, and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible.”
Dowden also insisted there was “definitely science” behind the 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants – despite a scientist advising the government saying he had “never heard” the measure discussed at Sage meetings.
“We are reducing the closing times to stop people staying later and drinking. And the point about all of this is that everyone has their part to play. If we all play by the rules, we can ensure that there are not further, more draconian restrictions,” Dowden said.
Infectious disease modelling expert professor Graham Medley said on Saturday he did not recall the curfew being discussed by Sage.
Tory backbenchers have continued to press the government to give MPs a chance to vote on coronavirus measures before they come into force, with MP Steve Baker warning that “liberty dies” with the government “exercising draconian powers” without parliamentary scrutiny.
More than 17 million people – a quarter of the UK population – will be under tougher coronavirus restrictions later on Sunday as new measures are introduced in Cardiff and Swansea from 6pm.
People will not be able to enter or leave the areas without a reasonable excuse. They will not be able to meet indoors with anyone they do not live with, with extended households suspended.