Student Xmas travel rules set
Two week’s social isolation and double Covid-19 tests planned
By: Jake Roslin
Image: Anna Shvets via Pixels
Undergraduates will be allowed to travel home for Christmas – subject to ‘staggered’ departures and Covid-19 testing, the Scottish Government has announced. Students will also be requested to stop ‘social mixing’ two weeks before they leave.
The University told The Gaudie yesterday (13 November) that practicalities of the announcement for Aberdeen students are not yet certain, and would not comment on our question as to how the fortnight’s requested social isolation would work, nor how this would be enforced.
'The Minister also told the Parliament, in what may be the most controversial part of the plan, that students should only go out “for essential reasons and exercise” during the 14 days prior to their departure.'
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Higher Education, announced earlier this week that student travel from each Scottish university would be staggered, in line with diversified semester end dates. This indicates Aberdeen University students may be some of the last to go home for the holidays, as teaching officially finishes only a week before Christmas Day.
“With large numbers within the population as a whole potentially travelling, this poses a potential risk of virus transmission,” Mr Lochhead said in a statement on 11 November. “Our challenge is to look after the wellbeing of our students by enabling them to return home while keeping them and the rest of society safe. And to help them keep their loves ones and communities safe.”
However, the Minister told the Edinburgh Parliament he expected only between a quarter and a third of Scotland’s 240,000 university students to return to their usual homes. While this figure excludes students who study in their home town and many international students, it also assumes some students will choose to stay in halls and student houses over Christmas.
The University’s Vice-Principal Education, Professor Ruth Taylor, advised students in an email on 12 November that there was no need for anyone to leave campus if they didn’t want to. “Activities for students in halls over the winter break are being arranged as usual,” she said, “And we will be providing more details on the available University services for those in the city over the holidays.”
New Covid-19 testing technology, so-called ‘lateral flow devices’, are to be deployed to speed the testing of students prior to their departure, although the Government has confirmed these tests will not be compulsory. The test spots antigens from the Covid-19 virus, and while not as sensitive as the PCR analysis for the coronavirus, gives a result in only 30 minutes. It is intended to test students twice, five days apart. However, Mr Lochhead told the Parliament “local and logistical circumstances” would come into play for this programme, and the University were unable to elucidate further on the testing at this time.
The Minister also told the Parliament, in what may be the most controversial part of the plan, that students should only go out “for essential reasons and exercise” during the 14 days prior to their departure. “I am sure students will want to be sure they do all they can do, so they don’t take the virus home with them,” he said.
No details have yet been provided of arrangements for students to return to their institutions in January, although the University confirmed to The Gaudie that ‘blended learning’, mixing face to face classes with online tuition, is set to be repeated at Aberdeen next semester.