Students across the country are to be tested en masse to enable them to return home ‘safely’ for Christmas, a report by the BBC finds.

In a letter to Vice-Chancellors from the Universities Minister, a week of mass testing is proposed that overlaps with the end of the national lockdown – between the 30th November and the 6th December.

The letter promises a fast turnaround for tests and “results within an hour”. The aim is to prevent students from spreading COVID-19 as they return home for Christmas.

The first week of December could then become the “window” for students to leave for Christmas – but those that test positive will have to take another test and will have to self-isolate if they test positive.

1.2 million students are expected to move across the country for the Christmas break, and this has raised concerns amongst SAGE that this migration could spread COVID-19.

Using the “lateral flow tests”, the tests that are self-administered and provide near-immediate results for those that take it, are expected to be used to mass test students across the country.

The BBC reports that testing sites will be prepared from the 15th November, ready to operate the following week, and with “pre end-of-term testing” between the 30th November and the 6th December.

These test kits will be given free to universities who will provide a site for the tests to be carried out in a way that can process thousands of students within a short time frame.

Ministers have already indicated that universities will stop in-person teaching two weeks before the end of term. Once students have been given the all-clear they are then expected to leave their term-time address and go home in a “test and release” process.

This could mean that campuses across the country could be abandoned by the 9th of December. Those that receive positive tests will have to remain and isolate.

The process by which students leave their term-time address was also looked at by Ministers, with calls to potentially avoid public transport – with suggestions that students could use chartered coaches or private transport.

These plans have raised concerns from universities about why the guidance has been left so close to the end of term – with concerns that many universities don’t have the capacity to roll out mass testing.

The NUS President, Larissa Kennedy said on the plans announced:

“We particularly welcome this mass-testing approach as it equips students with the knowledge to make informed decisions about travel ahead of the winter break based on individual risk, instead of being subject to blanket rules we’ve seen elsewhere this term. The government must now ensure that universities have enough resource to cope with the mass demand for this testing. We do now need a clear strategy for January return: students deserve better than another term of uncertainty.”

When asked, a Loughborough University spokesperson said: “We await detail with interest. We have not yet received the letter.”

LAST UPDATED: 10:28 11/11/20


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