(Bloomberg) — University students will be allowed to return home for Christmas with their families during a “travel window” in early December after the coronavirus lockdown has ended, the U.K. government announced.

a sign on the side of a stone building: A sign advising people to social distance the Great Court at Trinity College, part of the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge.

© Photographer: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP
A sign advising people to social distance the Great Court at Trinity College, part of the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge.

Ministers are working with universities to set up mass testing on campus so as many students as possible can be tested for Covid-19 before they head home. If a student tests positive, they will need to stay and self-isolate for 10 days.


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Under new government guidance published Wednesday, students will be able to travel home on staggered departure dates set by universities between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long pledged that students can be with their families at Christmas but had come under increasing pressure to set out how this would be done. There are fears that more than 1 million students could spread the virus as they move back home where infection levels may be different to their university area.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “We have worked really hard to find a way to do this for students, while limiting the risk of transmission.  Now it is vital they follow these measures to protect their families and communities.”

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The issue has been further complicated by devolution, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have different coronavirus restrictions. English students in these areas should follow local guidance before returning home, the U.K. government said.

England is currently under a four-week partial lockdown that ends Dec. 2: while schools and universities remain open, non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants are closed and socializing is severely restricted.

Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said the “mass movement” of students across the country at the end of term presented a “really significant challenge” in the fight against Covid-19. She added: “The measures announced today will help minimize that risk.”

Emma Hardy, universities spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour Party, said: “It is deeply concerning that the government still have no plan for what students should do in January. They must bring a plan forward urgently.”

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