COVID-19: Students return home for Christmas from today – here’s what you need to know
University students in England will be returning to their families for Christmas from today as the “travel window” starts.
With many desperate to spend the festive season with their loved ones, the government has devised a plan to reduce the risk of passing on COVID-19 to older family members.
Here’s what you need to know.
How long is the travel window?
Students can travel home between 3-9 December, which has been timed to coincide with the ending of the national lockdown as people are less likely to have contracted the virus in this time.
It also means that if people have to isolate during this week, they would still be able to make it home before Christmas once their quarantine period ends.
What happens if I miss the cut-off date?
Anyone who hasn’t returned home by 9 December risks having to isolate for up to two weeks in their university accommodation if they catch the virus or come into contact with a positive case.
According to government advice, you should have a period of “restricted contact” before returning home – with similar restrictions to the national lockdown – if you miss the cut-off date.
Can I travel if I have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been contacted by Test and Trace?
No, you should remain in your current accommodation.
How will the travel window work?
Universities have been told they should end all face-to-face teaching by 9 December, although they can still continue with virtual lectures.
They have also been told to stagger the end of in-person teaching across departments and encourage students to travel home on different days to avoid a huge rush.
Will people be tested before they return home?
Many universities are rolling out mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing this week, which will use rapid lateral flow tests that can give a result within an hour.
Students who test negative are being encouraged to go home as soon as possible once they receive their result.
What about the return to university?
Students will have their return to campus staggered over five weeks after Christmas, with every student offered a test when they arrive back.
Medical students and those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching should return between 4 and 18 January, according to government guidance.
People who need to return to campus earlier for other reasons – such as those who don’t have access to appropriate accommodation – can also be prioritised.
Everyone else should be offered online lessons from the beginning of term before being allowed to return to their university gradually over a two-week period from 25 January.
Students will be given two rapid lateral flow tests, three days apart, and should restrict social contact in the period between their tests.
The government has also advised people who have spent the festive period in Tier 3 areas where there is mass community testing to take a test before travelling back to university.
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