New guidance has been set out today to help manage university students travelling home for the Christmas period.
Students will be required to follow the current nationwide lockdown restrictions in England until 2 December, however, a ‘student travel window’ will run from 3 December to 9 December in which students will be allowed to travel home on staggered departure dates set by their university.
Through the student travel window, students will travel home following the four-weeks of national restrictions, which is hoped will reduce the risk of virus transmission to family and friends in their home cities.
The Government has also said that Coronavirus tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they travel home for Christmas, with universities in areas of a particularly high prevalence of the virus being prioritised. Students who test positive ahead of their departure will need to remain in self-isolation for ten days.
As a result, all university teaching will need to be moved online by 9 December, and potentially earlier, to allow for students travelling home.
Speaking about the guidance, 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.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries has said that the mass movement of students presents a “really significant challenge” but that the measures announced will “help minimise that risk and help students get home to their families as safely as possible for Christmas”
How will the student travel period work?
Students who wish to travel home for Christmas will be asked to do so between 3 December and 9 December. It is understood that universities will contact students in the coming days and weeks to give them a departure date to ensure these departures are staggered where possible.
Universities will work with public health officials and transport operators to help ensure the safe travel of students.
Students will have to follow all relevant government guidance when travelling but will be able to travel home no matter what local lockdown tier they are residing in.
How about students who need to stay in their university area for employment?
Students will not have to travel on dates advised by their universities or within the student travel period, however, it is being recommended that they travel by 9 December.
If students develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19, they need to isolate for 14/10 days. Doing so after the 9 December would mean they would not be able to travel home in time for Christmas (if isolating for 14 days).
How about students travelling between different countries in the UK?
Students who are returning to England from other parts of the UK should self-isolate for at least 14 days before or after travelling home to minimise their risk of Coronavirus transmission.
Seperate guidance has been announced in Wales.
International students are being asked to consider any restrictions in their home country if they plan to travel home for the Christmas period, plus their ability to access university course materials overseas.
What about students who remain on campuses?
It is anticipated that many students may stay in university accommodation over the Christmas period, including but not limited to international students, care leavers and students estranged from their families.
The Government has said that universities should ensure students are ‘properly cared for and can access affordable food, medical and cleaning supplies’
How about plans for returning to campuses in January?
Many students may be reluctant to travel home until they know what plans are in place for the return to university accommodation in January.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education told The Speaker that plans for the January return will be set out in due course.