Can students in Scotland go home for Christmas? New Scotland student testing programme explained

Students will have to take two tests before travelling home for the festive period

Scottish students will be able to go home for the Christmas period under a government testing plan.

As well as a “staggered return”, involving courses ending at different times, students will be required to return two negative tests before travelling back home from halls in December.

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Universities minister Richard Lochhead told MSPs that up to 80,000 students are expected to make the journey home at the end of term.

A new testing system has been planned to allow Scottish students to travel home for Christmas (PA Media)

The Scottish Government had to devise a strategy to reduce the risk of students spreading the virus among their family, friends and home communities.

It follows the mass outbreaks at university halls in Scotland at the beginning of term after large numbers of students moved into accommodation at the same time.

There was no widespread Covid testing in place, resulting in hundreds of students catching the virus and thousands more having to self-isolate.

So, how exactly will students be allowed to travel home for Christmas?

Here’s everything we know so far about the testing plan.

How will students be able to return home for Christmas?

Testing systems will be set up at Scottish universities as part of a UK-wide drive to get students home safely for Christmas.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, told Good Morning Scotland that the testing programme would involve up to 65,000 students living in halls and student accommodation.

The Scottish Government will work in partnership with the UK government and institutions to offer two types of Covid-19 tests to students.

One of these is lateral flow testing - a new rapid test, used in Liverpool, which can deliver a result in only 15 to 20 minutes. The other is the gold-standard PCR test which is more sensitive and can take up to a day, or longer, to produce an accurate result.

Students in Scotland will only be able to travel home for the festive break if they return two negative coronavirus tests.

The tests will need to be taken five days apart due to the virus incubation period.

For the students who test negative, it’s happy days - they will be able to go home.

However, those who test positive will have to self-isolate for 10 days before travelling back, just like anyone else who is infected with the virus.

It is hoped that the tests will be conducted in time so those who do return a positive result and have to self-isolate will still make it home in time for the Christmas period.

Richard Lochhead told MSPs that students will be advised to reduce their socialising for two weeks before travelling home.

He said they should only be going out for essential reasons, like going to the shop and for exercise.

The end dates of courses will also be staggered to avoid thousands of students travelling across the country at the same time in December, with some courses even ending as early as 30 November.

Universities will be asked to make any necessary changes to scheduling, ensuring that any assessments end in time to allow students to go home.

Mr Lochhead added that all college and university students travelling home will be given advice on how to do so, including how to safely use public transport.

Can students be stopped from leaving university?

Students who return positive tests will be unable to leave campus until their self-isolation period is over.

It’s a similar situation for those who develop coronavirus symptoms - a new, continuous cough, fever or loss of taste or smell - who will have to self-isolate and arrange to be tested.

Their household will also be asked to self-isolate for 14 days or until they know the outcome of the test.

What happens when students are home?

Once students have returned home, they will be subject to the same restrictions as everyone else - depending on what tier their area is in at the time.

Students won’t be exempt from the rules on household mixing and socialising.

When will students return to university after Christmas?

Richard Lochhead said work was ongoing to devise a plan for how students should be returning to universities after the festive break, warning that the return “will not be normal”.

He said lessons needed to be learned from the outbreaks that occurred at the start of term in September, before finalising any plans for the new year.

What about overseas students?

Many overseas students may not be able to return home depending on travel restrictions and what the coronavirus situation is like in their home country.

Some might be reluctant to travel, in case they need to quarantine when they return to Scotland for the second term in the new year.

It may be the case that many students decide to spend the festive period in university accommodation.

Mr Lochhead said students who chose to do this will be “well supported”.