By Tirion Davies | Editor-in-Chief
Students in Wales hoping to return home for the Christmas period have been told they will need to travel by 9 December at the latest.
Those returning home will be offered new, rapid turnaround tests 24-hours before they return home, and the Welsh Government has announced teaching will need to cease by December 8.
For students who find their test is positive, they will be able to travel after the 9 December deadline, as there is a priority to self-isolate and combat the virus, so that they do not cause a surge in infection rates.
A similar announcement was made in England, though there will be a need for students at English universities to use a “time slot” to return home.
Students at English universities have been told they will be given a week to travel, between 3 December and 9 December, after the end of their current lockdown.
Minister for Welsh Education Kirsty Williams, has noted, as reported by the BBC, “many students will wish to return home for the Christmas break and I’m pleased to confirm arrangements to enable that”.
Though it has been rumoured that students in England wishing to return home for Christmas will begin testing from November 30, it has not yet been announced as to whether the same might happen for Welsh students.
The West Government has announced, however, that new COVID-19 lateral flow tests will be provided to students who are traveling home – although the beginning date for these testing measures has not been confirmed – and that in-person teaching will need to end by December 3.
Since the beginning of the Autumn term in September at universities across the UK, there has been a significant spike in the number of positive COVID-19 cases amongst young people.
Cardiff University Talybont Halls of Residences saw an outbreak of COVID-19 soon after students returned in September. Since then, Senghennydd Halls of Residences and many in student housing have reported they have tested positive.
As more and more students tested positive, Cardiff was placed into a local lockdown until First Minister Mark Drakeford announced Wales would be entering a ‘firebreak’ two-week lockdown, to reduce the number of cases across Wales.
There is a belief that this system of testing and isolating ahead of returning home for Christmas will not only lessen the number of positive cases here in Wales but also help stop the spread of the virus beyond university hotspots.
But what exactly are the plans for students returning home for Christmas?
Students returning home are being asked to reduce their contacts before the end of term, get a test “ideally 24-hours” before returning home, plan to travel no later than December 9, and “familiarise themselves” with university plans for ending in-person lectures so that they can leave campus safely.
It means that many students may choose to isolate for a two-week period before the end of term, to ensure their COVID-19 rapid tests will be negative.
New asymptomatic testing facilities will be available at “participating universities in Wales” within the next few weeks, the Welsh Government has announced.
There is an aim that all universities across Wales will participate in the testing, but ministers are still attempting to see how feasible this may be.
The Welsh Government has further stated it has worked closely with the other four nations of the UK to ensure similar messages are being expressed to other students, and that it will attempt to communicate directly with Welsh students at English universities to ensure they are aware of the new regulations.