Around 1,700 students in Manchester have been ordered to self-isolate after 127 of them tested positive for coronavirus.
Hundreds of students at the Birley campus and Cambridge Halls at Manchester Metropolitan University have been told to stay in their rooms for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.
The rate of Covid-19 spread in Manchester was 185.6 per 100,000 people in the week up to September 22, when 1,026 positive tests were recorded, figures show.
This was almost twice the rate of the previous week when the infection rate was 93.2 per 100,000, with 515 cases.
The news comes after all students in Scotland were told to avoid pubs as part of efforts to prevent outbreaks in university campuses from spreading into the wider population.
Manchester Met first-year student Joe Barnes told BBC Breakfast: “It’s left morale at my flat pretty low to be fair because to put it into perspective we have just had what should have been our freshers’ week.
“We should have been going out making the most of it and now we are stuck inside for another two weeks after isolating for a week already because a couple of people in our flat have caught the virus. So we don’t see the end of it.
“For this two-week period we have had the announcement all our lessons will be online, so theoretically I could go home and study but for me that sort of defeats the point of coming to uni at all. I have not only just come for my studies, I have come to meet new people and enjoy the experience.”
The University and College Union has described the Manchester incident as “the latest catastrophe in a week where wholly predictable – and predicted – Covid outbreaks have caused havoc on campuses across the UK”.
General secretary Jo Grady said: “We warned last month of the problems with moving thousands of students across the country and the time has come for urgent action from ministers and universities to protect staff and students.
“Manchester Metropolitan University shifting teaching online only for foundation and first year students exposes the total absurdity of the current position of trying to continue with blended learning.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Grady urged university leaders to drop face-to-face classes until the government improves its test-and-trace system.
She told the paper: “If [vice-chancellors] don’t do something now, all their efforts will be undone in a few weeks because the number of infections will be so high, or there is an urgency about this that didn’t exist a month ago, because we are seeing infection rates rising and there is the danger that students are just becoming incubators.
“But until there is an effective, UK-wide test-and-trace programme, there are going to be cases everywhere.”
Councillor Bev Craig, executive member for adult health and wellbeing for Manchester City Council, said: “This is obviously very difficult for all of the young people involved and we will be working with the university and other public services to make sure that any of the students affected get the support they need.
“Students are a vital part of our city, and as part of our plans we expected that numbers could rise as they returned to the city.”