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Six-day travel window for students returning home for Christmas

Travel windows, staggered departure dates and mass testing are part of the government’s latest guidance for safely returning students home for the holidays, whilst limiting the spread of COVID-19

By Georgiana Scott, Deputy Editor

Travel windows, staggered departure dates and mass testing are all part of the government’s latest guidance for safely returning students home for the holidays whilst limiting the spread of COVID-19.

This morning, the government released a long-awaited set of measures to facilitate the return of university students to their families for the Christmas holidays.

The guidance gives students a six-day travel window between 3-9 December to travel back home.

The window, beginning the day after the second national lockdown lifts, is designed to allow any students who test positive enough time to self-isolate before the Christmas holiday.

Universities have therefore been called upon to set out staggered departure dates for students who choose to leave campus and shift all learning online by the 9th so students can continue their studies from home.

In an email to all students, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sarah Purdy said Bristol University will be ‘assessing the guidance’ to see what it means for students’ education, particularly those ‘on programmes with research, practical or professional accreditation requirements.’

Universities will also need to co-operate with mass-testing schemes on campus, which include the delivering of 'rapid result tests' and will target high-risk universities and students most vulnerable to the virus. However, even asymptomatic students will be expected to get tested.

Bristol university have said they welcome the proposed testing approach, and if offered to them by the government, will undertake widespread testing for its student community.

As part of the announcement, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: We know this Christmas will feel  different, and following this incredibly difficult year,   we  are delivering on our commitment  to get students back to their loved ones  as safely as possible for the holidays.

‘We have worked really hard to find a way to  do this for students, while limiting the risk of transmission.  Now it is vital they follow these measures to protect their families and communities, and for universities to make sure students have all  the  wellbeing  support they need, especially those who stay on campus over the break.’

The Universities Minister urged institutions to produce a ‘bespoke plan’ emphasising mental health support for students not returning home.

However, she was unable to comment on what the arrangements for getting students back to university once the holiday period is over.

Speaking on the announcement, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the Government’s announcement regarding guidance for the Christmas period and the clarity it gives our community.

As highlighted in the announcement, because the current four-week national lockdown is being considered as a sufficient form of quarantine period, the Government’s position is that provided they are not self-isolating students who wish to do so will be able to move from their university address to another address such as a family home between 3-9 December.

‘We will be assessing the guidance and will share further details as to what this means for our students - including those on programmes with research, practical or professional accreditation requirements - as soon as possible.

‘As always, we will support those students who remain on campus throughout the Christmas period.

‘We also welcome the opportunity to undertake widespread testing for our student community on campus as part of the proposed mass testing approach. We are awaiting more information about whether this opportunity will be offered to us and if it is, we will do all we can to ensure this is deliverable once it has been confirmed with government how this might best be achieved.’

Featured Image: Siavash Minoukadeh

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