Wales takes the lead in the “stupidest Covid regs affecting students” competition

I’ve been quite impressed with the way in which Wales has handled the pandemic generally and the way in which Kirsty Williams as Education Minister has handled the implications for students and universities specifically.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

But we have an early front runner here for the stupidest bit of Covid-19 restriction legislation I’ve seen since this all kicked off last March.

Avid readers of Wonk Corner will know that a near obsession of mind before Christmas was trying to keep on top of all four nations’ Covid restrictions in terms of how they apply to students – particularly where said restrictions don’t match the guidance, don’t match up with other nations or just don’t make any sense.

I’ll be honest here – I kind of lost the thread a bit on the long-running saga of what counts as a “household”, mainly because my general impression has been that after months of confusion, this has all settled down in both guidance and legislation.

So this story about Manchester caught my eye. Most will have looked at the story through the optic of police tactics, university security and, you know, because it‘s Manchester.

But I was also looking at it thinking “I wonder what the university said a household was to these students”. A bunch of students have been fined for taking part in a gathering which involved students from multiple floors. On the assumption that a “floor” is a “household”, that breaks the rules.

My pondering was along the lines of – if this ended up in court, whether this “make it up” definition of household might get tested – partly because the lawyers in England seem to have been assuming all along that a “household” can be defined by a building manager with a pencil. “Household” is not, by the way, specifically defined in the Covid-regulations or its host act.

To recap – “household” matters for rules on gatherings and self-isolation. Right now you can’t mix with someone not in your household, and your whole household has to self-isolate if someone has symptoms. So if “household” in halls or an HMO means what other bits of legislation says it does – that each person is in a household of their own – there are problems.

But anyway – that story is nothing in comparison to this one about Cardiff. The Tab says that the university has sent students an email telling them that “gatherings of more than four residents should not happen in communal areas including kitchens, corridors, stairways”, quoting “current Welsh Government advice at alert level 4.”

I looked at it and my first assumption was that someone somewhere had made an over-zealous interpretation. If there are six students in a cluster flat, or ten on a halls floor, or five in an HMO, the idea that all six, all ten or all five couldn’t all eat together is obviously utterly preposterous. And this isn’t just a student issue – there’s plenty of people in HMOs who all maintain separate contracts with their landlord. Surely there’s an exemption that allows them to all, you know – sit in their living room.

But amazingly, there isn’t. The latest iteration of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 create an exemption for participation in a gathering where all the persons in the gathering live in the same premises, and share toilet, washing, dining or cooking facilities with each other – but only if it consists of 4 people or less.

And that actually means that the guidance in Wales – and no, I’m not making this up – says:

For the purposes of public health management of cases, incidents and outbreaks, those living in shared accommodation as a contact group will be treated as a “household”. For example, seven students all sharing a kitchen and eating area in a student flat would be required to self-isolate by law if one of them had symptoms or tested positive for Covid-19.


The coronavirus restrictions limits the number of students within the contact group who can gather at any one time. This will vary depending on the alert level… in alert level 2, 3 and 4 the maximum number is 4 people (excluding under 11s)… for example a student may have 12 people in their contact group but may only meet with a maximum of 3 others in shared facilities or public places in alert level 2, 3 and 4.

All of which leads to the sort of chaos where a university tells its own students in its own halls that they should use rotas within a group of people that share a kitchen to ensure that the number of people needing to use that kitchen at any one time is four or less.

Unbelievable. Did Welsh government lawyers never attend university?

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