Students in England urged to take coronavirus test before Christmas travel

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With a one-month coronavirus lockdown in England due to expire on December 2 and with deaths from the virus now in excess of 50,000, the London government has published guidance for university students who want to travel home to spend Christmas with their families.

Once the four-week lockdown is eased, students are being encouraged to return to their family homes during a UK “student travel window”, between December 3 and 9.

The aim is to minimise the risk of further spreading Covid-19 in a country that is recording more than 20,000 new cases daily.

According to the government’s guidelines, universities should not restart any social or extra-curricular activities when the second lockdown in England ends, and they will switch to online tuition by 9 December. Staggered departure dates for students will be set up by universities during that week and efforts will be made to manage the pressure on transport services.

The government’s guidance also says opportunities for university students “to socialise extensively” should be discouraged before they travel home.

Help with vast testing effort

The government has said it will help universities test as many students as possible before the travel window, with institutions in areas of high coronavirus prevalence prioritised.

Distribution of tests is set to begin at the end of November. Hundreds of thousands of 15-minute tests will be offered to students, but they cannot be stopped from leaving if they have not been tested.

Those who test positive will be required to self-isolate at their universities for 10 days, but according to the plan, that should still give them enough time to travel home in time for Christmas.

“You can never eliminate the risk - we’re amidst a pandemic,” said Universities Minister Michelle Donelan. “What we’re doing is trying to manage that risk, reduce it and give students the confidence to go home.”

Complementary element

She described the roll-out of rapid result tests to as many students as possible in England as a "complementary element" to the travel window, adding that the week after the four-week national lockdown ends in England was chosen because “students will pose a much-reduced risk to their loved ones and their community”.

The UK government has yet to provide any guidance on requirements for students after the Christmas holidays, but Donelan suggested that going back to university for those who test negative may be easier.

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said the mass movement of students in the run-up to Christmas “presents a really significant challenge within the Covid-19 response.

“It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to,” she added.