Most returning students’ campuses to get pre-Christmas Covid tests

More than 100 universities sign up to take part in rapid testing programme, but plans for post-festive return yet to be set out

November 23, 2020
Covid test
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Plans for rapid coronavirus testing before the end of term will cover the English universities attended by the majority of students expected to travel home for Christmas, the government said.

Publishing its Covid winter plan, the Westminster government said that 108 higher education institutions had signed up to participate in the testing programme ahead of a six-day student “travel window”.

Students will be allowed to travel home between 3 and 9 December on staggered departure dates set by their universities. All universities have been required to move their teaching online by 9 December.

Results of the tests will be available within an hour; those who test positive would be required to take another test and if that is also positive, they would have to self-isolate. But students who have not been tested will still be able to return home.

The winter plan sets out the government’s proposed approach to controlling Covid-19 at the end of England’s lockdown on 2 December. It says that tests will be offered “to as many students as possible before they travel home for Christmas, targeted using a range of factors including local prevalence rates, whether testing is available already, and the percentage of high-risk students in each institution”.

The 108 higher education institutions that have signed up cover “the majority of students expected to travel home for Christmas. This will provide further reassurance that where students test negative, and self-isolate if they test positive, they can return home safely and minimise the risk of passing Covid-19 on to their loved ones,” the paper says.

“Once at home, in terms of the social contact rules, they and the family members they live with will be treated as being part of the same household.”

Some vice-chancellors previously warned that universities would struggle to put the mass testing plan into action, citing concerns over logistics, staffing and training.

Students have been urged to avoid public transport where possible when travelling home.

The winter plan adds that the government “was looking to make the return to higher education as safe as possible” after Christmas, “and will provide further guidance in due course, considering future developments and the relevant scientific advice”.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan previously indicated in a Times Higher Education interview that mass testing was likely to form part of the plan for the return to campus life after the festive season.

The winter plan adds that universities “have worked hard to make campuses as safe as possible and provide blended learning to enable students to return to campuses and engage in face-to-face learning. All universities developed plans for managing and controlling outbreaks and there has been close working between public health experts and universities, who have successfully managed and controlled outbreaks to reduce risks for students, staff and the communities in which they live.”

“Almost all” universities are now within a mile-and-a-half of a testing centre, “allowing staff and students to get access to tests should they develop symptoms”, the document says.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

This is a mess, compounded by the issues with the 'lateral flow' test devices, how many false positives (and negatives) will be found as a result of those problems will increase the demand for PCR testing? The false negatives may mean students take Covid home and infect parents etc. As to the new year, perhaps now is the time to go fully on-line, with reduced content, until vaccinations are done, say until Easter, then back to 'normal' with the University Academic year realigned to a January start, which would fit well with the no-offers before confirmed qualifications timings too.

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