More than 1,600 students at two Tyneside universities, and another 100 in Durham, have tested positive for coronavirus in the past seven days.
Newcastle University said 1,003 out of its 28,000 students have received a positive test result between October 1-7, and Northumbria University said on Thursday that 619 students have done so in the past week.
That latest figure for Northumbria followed it announcing on Friday that it had 770 cases in the past week.
Northumbria University said by Saturday evening more than 1,800 students will have been supported with access to online concierge services or food parcels delivered by our staff and the Students’ Union.
The latest figures came after both universities announced they would be switching to online teaching for a minimum of three weeks, unless in-person lessons were an essential part of the course.
A further 12 Newcastle University staff members from its 6,500 employees have had a positive result in the same period.
A spokeswoman said “the overwhelming majority of cases” were from “social and residential settings”.
She added: “We expected to see cases rise in light of the increase in cases both locally and nationally and all HE institutions have to manage this on an ongoing basis.
“We feel confident that we have appropriate measures in place to protect us all while we are on campus and to reduce the potential for transmission in our community.”
One lecturer who asked not to be named said: “I feel heartily sorry for the students.
“They’ve essentially had no choice but to come to university, and sit in their rented accommodation, often rented from the university, and stew.
“I suspect not all but many are getting nothing, and probably less, out of their uni experience than they would in the relative safety of their homes.
“After all, who could have predicted that bringing thousands of people together from all over the country, and other countries, in confined spaces would not risk an explosion in infections?
“It was sheer lunacy and a lot of staff are angry about it, and not just because of how it affects them.”
UCU regional official Iain Owens said: “The huge rise in the number of students with Covid makes the efforts by universities minister Michelle Donelan to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak even more staggering.
“It is time for the government to take a serious grip of the crisis, properly support students, and provide a coordinated plan to allow all them to return home if they wish once it is safe to do so.”
Durham University has asked students living in two colleges to remain on campus for the next week. The announcement for St Mary’s College and Collingwood College followed a sharp rise in cases, it said.
Around 50 of the 300 students living at St Mary’s College and around 50 of the 500 at Collingwood College have tested positive.
Some students in both colleges were self-isolating and those who were not have been asked to remain on campus, not to go into the city centre and only travel for university-related activity.
Pro-vice chancellor Jeremy Cook said: “We have been actively monitoring coronavirus case numbers across the University community throughout the pandemic and have implemented a range of carefully considered, progressive measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.”
Meanwhile, at Leeds University, 555 students and three staff members have tested positive between September 28 and October 4.
Professor Simone Buitendijk, vice chancellor, said: “We are acutely aware that behind each number is an individual with their own needs and concerns, and ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of everyone is our absolute priority.”