Students Urged To Test Before Travelling As University Covid Cases Rise Sharply | TOTUM
Ben Hayward December 16th
2021

Students are being urged to take Covid tests before leaving university for the holidays amid fears that the ‘mass migration’ will fuel the spread of the virus. 

The warning comes as roughly one million students are due to travel away from campuses this week, and after a number of universities reported sharp rises in Covid cases, reports the Guardian.

Loughborough University and Imperial College London have moved learning online for the majority of their students in order to try and limit social contact, while other universities have urged both staff ands students to cancel or scale back Christmas celebrations.

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The majority of universities are currently following government guidance to retain face-to-face teaching to the end of term - despite the prime minister’s call for people to work from home where possible to help curb the Omicron variant. 

Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said outbreaks at universities had not been as severe as last year.

“However, any travel carries some risk and in particular has the potential for greater exposure during travel and also, importantly, to introduce mixing between age groups that would not be there at other times of the year.

“Thus students travelling should be cautious in regards to both physical distancing measures and with the use of lateral flow tests to try to detect presymptomatic infections.”

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Despite the rising infection numbers, there are currently no plans for staggered departures in December or returns in January, with the government instead relying on testing and high levels of vaccination among students - ONS figures show 90% of higher education students have had at least one vaccine dose, and 78% have had two.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents university staff, has urged ministers to allow universities to move online for the final week of term, rather than risk unnecessary infections and isolation over Christmas.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “Sadly, as was the case last year, the government and the vast majority of institutions have ignored warnings from staff and unions and taken unnecessary risks.

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“With such poor leadership, it is little wonder some students have already voted with their feet and returned home for the year.

“The challenge now is delivering a safe return to learning in January. Universities must carry out new risk assessments before the start of the next academic term and ensure appropriate mitigations are in place to keep students and staff safe.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “To minimise the spread of Covid over the holidays we are urging every student heading home to get tested before they leave and to test before they go back in the new term, and we are working closely with the higher education sector to make sure students can continue to benefit from in-person teaching.”

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