Mr Hancock pointed out that the second waves of the virus being seen in Spain and France “started largely among younger people”, saying: “In Spain, the number of hospitalisations has gone up by 14 times since the middle of July. In France, the number of people in hospital has trebled over the last month or so.”
Meanwhile, one of the one of the Government’s scientific advisers said students could not be stopped from being “hedonistic” and going to parties.
Dr Gavin Morgan, an expert in education psychology at University College London who advises the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), urged universities to supervise socially distant activities rather than leaving students to their own devices.
“The social aspect of university is just as important as the academic side for young people,” he said. “It is natural for them to want to socialise and it would be very, very difficult to try and stop young people from socialising. Young people are hedonistic and think: ‘We are not going to get ill, so we won’t not go to parties.'”
Dr Morgan, who sits on Sage’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours group, known as Spi-B, said it would be more effective to “treat students like adults” and educate them about their responsibilities.
A number of American universities have introduced harsh penalties – including suspensions and expulsions – for students who organise or attend large parties or gatherings where social distancing is ignored, but Dr Morgan told The Telegraph that a “heavy-handed approach will not work”, adding that “any attempt to be quite puritanical about it is doomed to failure”.
His remarks came after warning from Sage that major coronavirus outbreaks at universities are “highly likely”, particularly at parties and in halls of residence. There is a “critical risk” that students will fuel a national surge of Covid-19 cases when they return home at the end of term, according to papers published by the group last week.
It comes as multiple schools have been forced to close soon after reopening (see video below for more on pupils’ return to the classroom). A secondary school in Suffolk closed its doors just days afterwards, while classes at two schools in Wales have been told to self-isolate for two weeks following confirmed cases of Covid-19.