Universities announce testing plans ahead of student return

Universities are moving to make the transition back to on-campus life as smooth and safe as possible as Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges them to push on with their academic year despite the coronavirus threat.

With Mr Johnson telling universities not to send students home in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak, at least two prominent institutions have announced testing plans aimed at avoiding major disruptions.

Cambridge says it will offer all students living in college accommodation a weekly coronavirus test after term begins on October 8.

And Exeter University has announced it is teaming up with commercial test provider Halo to ensure same-day testing at its campuses in Exeter and Cornwall.

Cambridge said it would go beyond Government guidance and offer testing to students even if they show no symptoms.

Sample swabs, from the nose and throat, will be pooled by college household, allowing the university to reduce the number of tests required to some 2,000 per week. If a pooled household test is positive, students in the household will be offered individual tests.

“We look forward to welcoming our students back to Cambridge and want to reassure them – and the wider local community – that we are doing everything we can to make sure they feel safe and supported while they are here,” Cambridge vice-chancellor Stephen J Toope said in a statement.

“This screening programme is just one of a number of measures that we are putting in place to keep our University and city safe.”

Stock – Exeter University
Stock – Exeter University

The University of Exeter said it would work with Halo, the UK’s first commercial provider of saliva-based Covid tests, to offer a simple and fast means of both finding cases and reassuring students who fall ill but are not infected.

“The university has put in place a full suite of measures to protect the whole community including providing face coverings, digital thermometers, Covid-secure buildings and protocols for staff and student behaviour,” the university said in a statement.

The university has also set up a Rapid Response Hub for all students and staff to report symptoms and request tests, with extra investment made in campus health centres so that students will be able to get medical help if they need it.

Coronavirus – Wed Sep 9, 2020
Coronavirus – Wed Sep 9, 2020

The moves come as Mr Johnson on Wednesday called on universities to not send students home in the event of an outbreak, and pleaded with students not to socialise in groups of more than six.

Mr Johnson told a press conference the Department for Education would issue updated guidance on how universities can remain open in a Covid-secure way.

This will include a “request not to send students home in the event of an outbreak so as to avoid spreading the virus across the country”, he said.

The Prime Minister’s plea comes after scientific advisers warned significant outbreaks of coronavirus linked to universities were “highly likely” and risk amplifying the transmission of the disease across the country.