Covid: Three quarters of university students in England covered by asymptomatic testing scheme

Covid: Three quarters of university students in England covered by asymptomatic testing scheme


Covid: Three quarters of university students in England covered by asymptomatic testing scheme

Covid: Three quarters of university students in England covered by asymptomatic testing scheme

Mass asymptomatic testing being rolled out at universities ahead of the Christmas return covers around 75 per cent of England’s student population, The Independent understands. 

Students have been advised to get tested for coronavirus before heading home for the holidays during a week-long travel window, starting on 3 December.

Announcing plans for the Christmas return earlier this month, the government said it would “work closely” with universities to establish mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing on campus, using lateral flow devices (LFDs) which turn around results within an hour.

The government has worked with 126 English universities to offer “the majority of students” tests before they go home for the festive break, a spokesperson said. 

The Independent understands the asymptomatic testing programme covers around 75 per cent of the student population in England. 

In guidance over the Christmas return, the government said it would use LFDs to support end of term movement, and would contact universities over the testing programme. 

“We will target testing based on a range of factors including local prevalence rates, whether testing is available already and the percentage of high-risk students in each institution,” the guidance says, which also warns LFD tests would “not be available in all locations”. 

A government spokesperson said on Monday: “We have worked with 126 universities in England to offer the majority of students COVID-19 tests before they return home for the Christmas break.”

“These tests provide further assurances students can travel home safely, in addition to the national four-week restrictions already in place, which will minimise the risk of transmission.”

They added: “Almost all universities who expressed an interest in mass testing have successfully joined the programme and set up asymptomatic testing sites.”

The Independent understands more than 130 universities had expressed interest in doing mass testing before Christmas, with a small number of these deciding it was not deliverable at this stage.

Jo Grady said: “We have grave concerns over how this programme will be carried out, particularly the risk of students being told – incorrectly – they do not have Covid, then relying on their test result to travel home and spend Christmas with vulnerable relatives.”

Experts have suggested that relying on rapid tests could mean a high proportion of cases are missed with false negative results.

An evaluation by Oxford University and Public Health England workers at Porton Down concluded the Innova lateral flow test – which was used in the Liverpool mass screening pilot – has an overall sensitivity of 76.8 per cent, although it detects almost all cases among patients with a high viral load.

Universities are rolling out mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing this week, with temporary testing being set up on campuses ahead of the seven-day “travel window” in England – where students who test negative can return to families from Thursday.

If they test positive as part of the scheme – which has to be completed by 9 December – students will be required to self-isolate at their university for a period of 10 days.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Universities should continue to provide additional support to students who are isolating to ensure they can access food and medical supplies if needed, along with mental health support.”

Additional reporting by Press Association


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