Students screened for Covid as they prepare to head home for Christmas

3 December 2020, 10:56 | Updated: 3 December 2020, 11:15

LBC has visited the testing centre at the University of Nottingham to speak to the students and faculty
LBC has visited the testing centre at the University of Nottingham to speak to the students and faculty. Picture: LBC

By Matt Drake

Students have begun submitting for mass coronavirus testing to allow those with a negative result to travel home for Christmas.

Many universities are rolling out mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing this week in a bid to get students home safely ahead of the festive break.

On Wednesday - just hours before the start of the "student travel window" in England - the Government released its guidance on how students should be brought back to campus in January.

LBC has visited the testing centre at the University of Nottingham to speak to the students and faculty.

Lewis, a first-year at Nottingham Uni, said he didn't realise he had coronavirus until a mum of his friend's made a spicy curry which he said he couldn't smell.

He praised the university for being organised in their mass-testing.

Read more: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine approved for UK use and will roll out next week

Dr Paul Greatrix, a Registrar for Nottingham Uni, said every student is being asked to be tested before they travel so they are not "endangering anyone else".

He said: "It's really important they sign up for the test... when it's negative, they are free to go.

"We've got many thousands of students who have booked slots for either our own asymptomatic test which is a saliva-based test, or the Government's test which is a swab test.

"So, they've got a choice and it's been great to see the number of students taking them."

Ruth, who attends the University of York, told LBC she is nervous about going home because she doesn't want to bring the virus home to her parents or any other elderly relatives.

Read more: Take vaccine or restrictions will 'almost certainly' endure, warns Van-Tam

But she hasn't been tested because she had coronavirus a month ago, "along with lots of other university students".

She said: "Being home for Christmas means a lot to me because this year more than ever we've not been able to be around family much and it is probably the longest I've gone without seeing my mum.

"So, I'm very excited about going home for Christmas."

More than half of students (54%) said they are "very concerned" or "quite concerned" about how the return to university in the new year will operate, according to the Hepi survey of 1,075 students.

The poll was carried out before the Department for Education (DfE) published advice for universities to stagger the return of students over five weeks after Christmas to reduce the transmission of Covid-19.

Watch: Matt Hancock hails approval of vaccine on LBC, saying 'help is on its way'

Explained: Who will get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine first in the UK?

Medical students and those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching in England should return to university between January 4 and January 18, according to the guidance.

But the remaining students should be offered online lessons from the beginning of term to protect students, staff and local communities.

A Universities UK spokeswoman said: "Universities understand that this continues to be a difficult time for students. We are working closely with Government to ensure that universities can safely welcome back students to campuses for blended teaching, learning and support in the new year.

"Universities have been working hard to transform support services to meet the challenges of the pandemic, moving counselling and advice online, building digital communities and developing new services to identify those in difficulty and to meet new needs."

It comes after it was revealed the UK has approved a vaccine for Covid-19. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people with two doses, given 21 days apart.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 800,000 doses of the jab would arrive next week, with millions more following in the coming weeks.

Sean Marett, who is chief commercial officer at BioNTech and has responsibility for distribution, said the UK was likely to receive at least five million doses of vaccine by the end of the year.

The UK had initially expected 10 million by the end of December, but Mr Marett said the amount being shipped out was being scaled back for all orders.

Earlier, Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, said "no corners have been cut" in assessing the jab's safety.

Public Health England (PHE) will process orders placed by the NHS for next-day delivery to hospital hubs around the UK.

Meanwhile, a further 648 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, while there were a further 16,170 lab-confirmed cases.