Covid ‘travel windows’ hit students scrambling to get home for Christmas

Students will be given a "travel window" after the coronavirus lockdown ends to ensure they get home before Christmas.

They will be ferried home in an evacuation-style operation between December 3 and 9 to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Ministers have drawn up plans for staggered departures after England's national lockdown lifts and all lectures will move online by December 9.

The shift aims to ensure students can still study until the end of term while preparing to spend the festive season at home with families.

Many will be offered rapid results coronavirus tests. Universities in areas with a lot of cases will be prioritised.

If students test positive before the travel window, they will still have enough time to self-isolate and get home for Christmas.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan admitted students have experienced a "hellish time" and a "very difficult" term since going to university in September and October.

She said: "We made a commitment that they could be able to go home for Christmas in the safest way as possible for both their communities and families.

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"We've now got this four-week period of national restrictions and, at the end of it, students will pose a much-reduced risk to their families, loved ones and communities.

"We're targeting that testing in some of the most highest-risk areas and universities that are highest risk.

"And also looking at those student percentages who are most vulnerable, for example BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) students.

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"That is one element of this strategy, you can never eliminate the risk – we're in the midst of a pandemic – what we're doing is trying to manage that risk, reduce it and give students the confidence to go home."

There have been a Covid-19 outbreaks at dozens of universities, sparking fears students would not be able to return home for Christmas.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said the "mass movement of students" presents a "really significant challenge" amid the pandemic.

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She said: "The measures announced today will help minimise that risk and help students get home to their families as safely as possible for Christmas.

"It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to."

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the government's plans were "riddled with holes" and "raised as many questions as they answer".

She said: "Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error.

"If the government instead told universities to move online now it would provide much more time to stagger the movement of students and better protect the health of staff, students and their wider communities."

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