We want all students who are studying away from home to be able to return for Christmas if they wish to. But the movement of large numbers of young people around the country could increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission unless certain measures are taken. That’s why the department has published guidance to help students to travel home at the end of the term while controlling that risk as far as possible.
What does the guidance say – when can students return home?
The guidance, published yesterday, sets out steps to ensure university students will be able to travel home to spend Christmas with their families once the national restrictions end on 2 December. There will be a ‘student travel window’ from 3 December to 9 December. The student travel window will mean students can travel having just completed the four-week period of national restrictions, reducing the risk of transmission to family and friends at home.
Are students able to travel home before December 3?
No. Like everyone else, students are expected to remain in their current accommodation and must not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home between 5 November and 2 December. By the end of the national restrictions, students will have completed at 4-week period of reduced social contact, and will therefore be less likely to transmit COVID-19 when they return to their family homes at the end of term.
So from December 3, will all students be able to travel home whenever they like?
After the end of the national restrictions on 2 December, students will be able to travel home and it’s strongly recommended that they travel home on or before 9 December. Students should discuss when to travel with their university, who will be making plans to stagger the end of face-to-face teaching.
Students should not travel if they have developed symptoms of COVID-19 or are identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Instead they should remain in their current accommodation and arrange to get a test. If a student tests positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), they are required by law to self-isolate in their current accommodation for 10 days.
If a student tests negative for COVID-19 after being identified as a contact of someone who tested positive, they must still self-isolate for 14 days but this can be done at home. In this case, students should travel home by private transport wherever possible, and should follow the guidance if they do need to use public transport. If a student tests negative after developing symptoms, but was not identified as a contact of someone who tested positive, they can travel home by any mode of transport and do not need to undertake any periods of self-isolation.
Will English students in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland be able to come home to their families after the national restrictions have lifted?
These students will be able to travel to their family homes in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland after the period of national restrictions ends on 2 December. As with English students, they must follow the guidance regarding self-isolation if they test positive for COVID-19, have symptoms of COVID-19, or are identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19.
Students at universities in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland who want to return to the UK should follow the guidance within the devolved administrations before they return home. As they will not have undertaken the period of national restrictions, we are asking these students to undertake a period of 14 days of restricted contact either before or after they return home. We expect this to be in line with the guidance in place in the devolved administrations.
What about international students?
If students wish to travel overseas at the end of the period of national restrictions (after 2 December) for the winter break, ultimately it is for them to decide whether they do so. If students do plan to travel overseas, they should adhere to Public Health England advice while in England to ensure they are travelling safely. They should also consider the restrictions on entry to the country in question, such as whether they would need to undertake a period of self-isolation in that country, and whether they need to self-isolate when they return.
What about students who don’t want to come home for Christmas and would rather stay at university? Will there be support for them?
We are working with providers to help ensure that students staying in their university accommodation over the winter break are supported, including those who are self-isolating. Students should inform their providers if they plan to remain on campus over the Christmas break, so that they can provide the right support.
What is the latest on testing students at university?
Tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they travel home, and will be targeted at universities in areas of high prevalence. Testing is an additional insurance to the existing measures and will provide further reassurance that where students test negative, they can return home safely and minimise the risk of passing coronavirus on to loved ones. We have quickly established walk-through sites and deployed mobile test sites so almost all universities are within 1.5 miles of a testing centre, allowing staff and students to get access to tests should they develop symptoms.
It is not a legal requirement for students to be tested but will be an important tool to help students adhere to safety measures to protect themselves, their friends, family and wider community. However, students who experience COVID-19 symptoms should follow the standard government guidance, including self-isolating immediately and booking a test through GOV.UK.
If a student tests positive will they still be able to return home to their family for Christmas?
If a student tests positive before they leave to go home they will need to remain in self-isolation for the required period of ten days. Moving all learning online by 9 December gives enough time for students to complete the isolation period and return home for Christmas.
If a student has been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, then they must self-isolate for 14 days. Exceptionally, at the end of term, if they have a negative test, they will be able to travel home to complete their self-isolation period at home if they prefer, using private transport wherever possible. This is because a negative test will tell a student that they are not currently infectious, so as an exception they will be allowed to change household. Students could still develop the infection in the coming days, so they will still need to complete the isolation period and should think about the potential risks of transmission to their families and communities.