A MASS testing system for students returning home for Christmas has received fierce criticism with suggestions it could lead to students spreading coronavirus in their home towns and cities.

Students were asked to return home by the Government after the second national lockdown period ended yesterday, with a special student travel window starting today, and drawing to a close on December 9.

Government advice states this should be in line with specific arrangements put in place by universities.

The dates for the window were chosen as following the lockdown period, students should technically have had limited contact, therefore in theory, the risk of them contracting and transmitting coronavirus is limited.

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However, the plan for testing students has been attacked by the University and College Union (UCU), with it described as ‘flawed’.

Students returning home will be tested through a clinically validated swab antigen test (lateral flow devices), which does not require laboratory testing and can turn around results within an hour.

It is these tests which have created the controversy however, as it does not detect all positive cases.

The UCU spoke of its ‘grave concerns’ over the plans and the accuracy of the tests.

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UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The flaws in Government plans for mass testing are a recipe for chaos that risk spreading the virus.

“We have grave concerns over how this programme will be carried out, particularly the risk of students being told – incorrectly – they do not have Covid, then relying on their test result to travel home and spend Christmas with vulnerable relatives.

“The risk of students receiving the wrong test result increases when testers have not been fully trained – rushing these plans makes that more likely.”

Tests began at Oxford colleges and Oxford Brookes campuses towards the end of November, with students advised to get tested twice, three days apart.

Once two negative test results have been received, students in Oxford are advised to return home.

Oxford Mail:

If a student tests positive, a confirmatory PCR test must be taken at a NHS testing centre, and the student must self-isolate for 10 days before returning home.

Students in Oxford who are planning to travel home by private vehicle are advised to avoid car sharing with anyone outside of their household or support bubble.

Students who need to travel by public transport have been advised to pre-book and avoid busy routes and times.

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A Government spokesperson said: “We have set out tailored guidance to universities designed by public health professionals to enable students to return home for the Christmas holidays while minimising the risk of transmission.

“The tests are safe, simple to use and do not require medically trained staff to administer them.

“Just like the tests available across our regional test sites, individuals will be asked to self-swab under guidance from trained staff.”

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have called for a unified approach across the UK to testing students for the virus ahead of their return to universities after Christmas.

In a joint letter to the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments, the party demanded ministers agree a plan for how to facilitate the return, amid fears there could be another spike in cases in January.

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Over 130 universities across over 155 campuses expressed an interest in taking part in the testing scheme.

Meanwhile, teaching for students will move online by December 9.

Last month, Martin Williams, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Oxford said: “Oxford University’s end of term testing programme is an unprecedented and concerted effort across the university and colleges to help ensure students protect their families and friends.

“It’s an important part of our arrangements for the end of term, which we are confident will allow students to leave Oxford in a safe and orderly way to spend time at home.”

Also speaking last month, Linda King, professor of Virology and pro vice-chancellor at Brookes, said: “Breaking the chain of transmission is key to controlling the virus.

“We’re strongly encouraging students to take these tests to help stop the spread of the virus, protect family and friends and save lives.”