RICHARD Leonard has been accused of ramping up fears for students after suggesting they won’t be allowed to return home for Christmas.

Nicola Sturgeon admonished the Scottish Labour leader after he speculated about teenagers either being trapped in their accommodation over the holidays, or returning home to spread the virus to family members.

It comes after hundreds of students have been forced to self-isolate following outbreaks in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.

READ MORE: Glasgow University outbreak: 124 students test positive for Covid-19

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Leonard claimed the outbreaks were a result of faults in the Scottish Government’s testing system. “Students are suffering the consequences of failure,” he said. “Students, some as young as 17, and away from home for the first time, are living without established support networks.

“We know that this in itself can have an impact on young people's mental health. On top of this, some of them are self-isolating in cramped accommodation, and many more will be anxious, that they won't be allowed to go home for Christmas.

“Students, and staff who work in their accommodation, need to know that the Government is working towards a solution. So what are you planning, First Minister, to avoid students, either being confined in accommodation away from families over Christmas or students returning home with the fear and very real risk that they are spreading Covid-19 to their friends and families back home?”

READ MORE: Unionists download England's Covid-19 tracing app to spite Holyrood

Sturgeon issued a stinging rebuke, suggesting that the Scottish Labour chief was stoking up anxieties.

“If Richard Leonard, as I am sure he is, is really concerned about the welfare of students and not increasing the already anxious situation they’re already – actually I'm going to see this too Richard Leonard – I think he'd have asked that question in a very different way.

She said speculating about students not being allowed home for the holidays was “not helping anybody”.

The SNP leader continued: “We all have to work right now to make sure that we deal with, cope with, this infectious virus in the best way possible way. I wish more than anything else I could snap my fingers and make it go away. I can't. This is a global pandemic we need to deal with it properly and systematically with all of us playing our part.”

The First Minister acknowledged that it was a “really tough” situation for students in particular, pointing out that her own 17-year-old nephew has just begun university.

“Like families across the country, I worry about him. So we all understand the emotional impact of this as well as the practical impact. That's why I have a duty, universities have a duty, to see to young people make sure you're not putting yourself at risk.

“We do have a system in place that means that when a student is symptomatic, they get quick access to testing. If they are positive, test and protect then steps in to make sure that their close contacts are given the right advice.

“None of this is easy for anybody right now, but the responsibility of government is to make sure we take these issues head on, support those out there on the frontline and get through this collectively as a country, which I believe we will.”

WATCH: Matt Hancock awkwardly explains pandemic casual sex rules

Ahead of FMQs, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he is not ruling out the prospect of asking students to stay on campus over Christmas.

He told Times Radio: "We have said that students should stay at university until Christmas... We don't rule out the suggestion you just made but I don't want to have to say that. It is some time off.

"I very much hope that we won't have to say that, but as I say I don't rule it out.”

Downing Street also did not rule out such a move in the event of outbreaks.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman commented: "What is important in the event there is a specific outbreak on a campus is that steps are taken to ensure that the virus is not spread more widely."