UK universities will be asked to manage an “evacuation” of students in early December, amid fears that students will not be able to return home for the Christmas holidays because of coronavirus.
The Department for Education has said that students will be asked to return home in a “travel window” between December 3rd and 9th, beginning the day after the national lockdown is expected to end. Staggered departure times are expected to be designated in order to minimise contact between students leaving campuses.
It is also expected that mass coronavirus testing will be made available for students, but the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has said that students will not be required to have a negative test result before returning home.
However, the general secretary of the University and College Union, Jo Grady, told the BBC that universities should move all teaching online now, rather than after 3 December, under the government’s current plans.
Universities are expected to work with local transport to help students return home within the tight timeframe.
The government and universities fear an “exodus” of students infected with coronavirus, risking the transmission of the virus to vulnerable family, friends and loved ones. December 9th has been designated as the end of the travel window because it will allow time for a 10-day period of self-isolation for anybody who tests positive for COVID-19 before returning home for Christmas.
Some Oxford students have already voiced concerns about specific time slots for departure, which raise questions about the availability of parents and families – depending on work and care commitments – to travel to Oxford and collect students. Only two days in the travel window will fall on a weekend.
Furthermore, many domestic students at Oxford University will be unable to travel home via public transport due to the widespread requirement to move all belongings out of college accommodation at the end of term.
Speaking to The Oxford Blue, a spokesperson for the University said: “on Wednesday 11 November the UK Government confirmed that it intends for students to be able to travel home for the Christmas period in early December. The University welcomes this announcement, and will provide further guidance for Oxford students as soon as possible”.
With 8th week ending on Saturday 5th December, it is not yet certain if all students will be able to reside in Oxford until the official end of term, two days into the travel window.
Yesterday, the UK’s official coronavirus death toll passed 50,000, with 22,950 new cases reported. 56 new cases of coronavirus in Oxford had been reported in 24 hours as of Wednesday morning.
Donelan admitted that students have endured a “hellish time” since returning to campuses this autumn.
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