Students given '7-day window' to return home for Christmas

11 November 2020, 00:00 | Updated: 11 November 2020, 16:18

Students in England will be tested for Covid-19 before being allowed to leave for Christmas
Students in England will be tested for Covid-19 before being allowed to leave for Christmas. Picture: Getty Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Students in England have been given a seven-day window to leave university to see their families for Christmas, easing fears they will be forced to spend the festive season away from home.

Universities have been told to end in-person teaching and switch to online classes by early December to accommodate students leaving campuses.

They will be allowed to travel between 3 December and 9 December, and Government guidance published later today will tell universities to stagger departure dates during what is being called the "student travel window.

They will also be encouraged to work with other institutions in the region to manage pressure on public transport.

All learning should be online by December, the guidance will say, so students can study from their family homes until the end of the semester.

Read more: Students in England to get coronavirus tests for Christmas at home

Read more: University students in Wales should return home for Christmas by 9 December

Allowing students to return home will be dependent on a negative Covid-19 test, as LBC reported on Monday.

It is hoped the risk of transmission will be reduced as students will travel after the four-week period of national restrictions in England.

The Government said it will work closely with universities to establish mass testing capacity, with Covid-19 tests offered to as many students as possible.

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."

Read more: Which areas in England will get rapid turnaround mass testing support?

A DfE spokesperson confirmed those who have a positive test will have enough to complete the self-isolation period and be able to return home for Christmas later in December.

Universities will also be asked to provide additional help and support - including affordable food - to students who decide to remain on campus over Christmas.

Deputy chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Jenny Harries said getting students home for Christmas without increase transmission of the virus presents a "really significant challenge" but praised the Government for the initiative.

She added: "The measures announced today will help minimise that risk and help students get home to their families as safely as possible for Christmas.

"It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to."

Read more: NHS told to be ready for Covid-19 vaccine 'from the start of December'

Read more: Rapid £10 Covid 'bubble test' launched for groups of up to 10 people

But the University and College Union's general secretary, Jo Grady, said the Government's plans were "riddled with holes" and "raise as many questions as they answer".

"Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error," she said.

"If the Government instead told universities to move online now it would provide much more time to stagger the movement of students and better protect the health of staff, students and their wider communities."