Coronavirus cases have dropped considerably in university suburbs and halls of residence following large outbreaks last month.

Students and those in the 17-21 age group accounted for 55 per cent of Manchester’s cases at the beginning of the month.

Public health chiefs said it was an “anticipated rise” as thousands of students descended on the city for the Autumn term.

But they now say the outbreaks that hit Manchester’ Metropolitan University’s Birley and Cambridge halls, as well as the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield campus are under control.

Wilmslow Road in Fallowfield

On October 3 the rate per 100,000 in Manchester was 582 cases per 100,000 people.

At that point 17-21 year olds were accounting for 55 percent of cases - mostly asymptomatic students living in halls of residence, health chiefs said.

The 17-21 year old age group now makes up around 17 per cent of the city’s Covid-19 cases.

In Fallowfield Central - once the country’s Covid hotspot - there were just 64 confirmed cases in the seven days to October 21.

Meanwhile, Hulme and University recorded 44 cases in the seven days to October 20.

The huge drop in cases among young people has been attributed to a number of swift actions taken by Manchester City Council and the universities.

A woman in a mask walks along Wilmslow Road in Fallowfield

At Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley and Cambridge halls of residence, around 1,500 students were put into lockdown in September.

Those living at the accommodation, in Hulme, were told to self-isolate for a fortnight 'with immediate effect' amid rising infection rates.

On September 30, more than 800 students across the MMU sites were swabbed for Covid-19 as part of a mass testing pilot scheme, introduced “to bring the self-isolation period to an end as soon as possible”.

Asymptomatic testing is only provided in specific circumstances, such as in areas of high prevalence, high risk or where there is a local outbreak.

Then, on October 6, both The University of Manchester and MMU told staff and students that all teaching would be moved entirely online until at least October 30 following a decision by the city's public health department, alongside Public Health England.

At one point 17-21 year olds accounted for 55 percent of Manchester's cases

Councillor Bev Craig, Manchester Council’s lead on Adult Health and Wellbeing, says all these actions have helped to bring rates in the city’s student areas “significantly lower”.

“Logic dictates that by bringing 74,000 students into the city you would see an increase,” she says.

“We did some really proactive work straight off. That includes the pilot scheme testing students in particular at Birley and Cambridge Halls at MMU.

“A significant proportion of that mass testing came back positive.”

Targeted testing using mobile testing units were used at Hulme, city centre and Fallowfield campuses.

“We are confident the approach we took did limit the spread within students and the wider population,” Coun Craig says.

Passengers on a Magic Bus gesture to our photographer

Although many of those testing positive for the virus earlier in the month were living at university halls, students living in house in multiple occupation (HMO) were also affected.

However, the council’s public intelligence team found that despite a prevalence of Covid-19 in second and third years living in private accommodation, most of the cases were linked to halls of residence.

Manchester Council has since shared its approach and plans for controlling Covid outbreaks with other university cities.

But students are being warned not to become complacent if they have had a positive test.

“Universities were operating and planning for something there was no national blueprint for,” Coun Craig says.

“Across the country we’ve got a range of unknowns. It is not known what proportion of people are asymptomatic. We don’t know how many have had it and are not aware, and it’s not known if people can contract it more than once.

Wilmslow Road in Fallowfield

“Something we’re very clear on is that we have to remain vigilant over the course of the academic year.

“We can’t predict if there will be further outbreaks.

“It would be foolish of any university city to say ‘that’s it’.

“We’re encouraging people to look after themselves and that’s as important now as ever.”

Coin Craig says she would like to see the government produce national guidance for university towns and cities as to how to manage outbreaks and how to approach students returning home for Christmas.

“As we approach the end of term, guidance for the whole country would be welcome,” she says.

“It should not have been a surprise that students returning to universities needed testing and without proper planning, the testing system would fall over.”

Most cases amongst students were linked to halls of residence

Household transmission is still the biggest driver of the spread of Covid-19 in Manchester.

The council is not currently managing any significant outbreaks elsewhere in the city.

But cases continue to be most common in areas where people work in frontline jobs, where quality of housing is poor and levels of poverty and deprivation are highest.

Crumpsall South currently has the highest infection rate in Manchester with 119 cases in the week ending October 21 and an infection rate of 842.6 per 100,000 population.