Students in England could begin to participate in a system of mass coronavirus testing before the end of the month, according to a letter sent to vice-chancellors by the Universities Minister.
The testing programme is designed to ensure the safe return of students to their homes for the Christmas holidays without spreading the virus, with the letter promising a fast turnaround for tests and “results within an hour”.
Testing is expected to start from 30 November, with all students getting a result through the duration of the week. Those who test negative will then be allowed to travel home in the first week of December, but those who test positive will have to take another test, and if still infectious, self-isolate for two weeks.
The plan follows speculation that students would be asked to isolate in halls or their university houses for two weeks before returning home for the Christmas period - a prospect that many students who had already been forced to isolate throughout the term did not welcome.
However, if mass testing is successful, a negative result could remove the need for students to isolate prior to travelling home.
Jack Anderson, a Criminology and Sociology student at the University of the West of England (UWE) said that the plan was a "great idea", but that all plans should be "heavily risk assessed" with students given details of exactly how the scheme will work.
"The idea itself is great because, in theory, it will allow students to safely mix with their family members, who are likely to not be in the same household/support bubble, which is particularly important over Christmas.
"However, I think it’d be important that each uni has a clear and thorough plan of action which will be publicly available to all students, providing all details of their plans and how they intend to put it into action and be available to answer any questions students may have.
"All in all, if done efficiently and safely, it could give students some kind of Christmas this year."
Around 1.2 million students are expected to move across the country during the Christmas break, with Sage warning that the movement could see a significant spread of the virus if handled incorrectly.
De Montfort University and Durham University have already begun rapid testing programmes, with other universities also operating their own testing systems.
The government will supply testing kits to universities for free, but institutions will be expected to carry out the procedure in a safe and effective manner.
In her letter to vice-chancellors, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said that the tests the government is deploying “have a high specificity which means the risk of false positive test results is low.
“Although the test does not detect all positive cases, it works extremely well in finding cases with higher viral loads - which is those who are most infectious.
“As the test is easy to administer and does not require a laboratory, testing can take place on a very regular basis.”
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Nicole lives in Manchester and is a Content Writer and Editor at Edvoy and journalist.