University students in England will be allowed to travel home in early December after a four-week lockdown is eased to spend Christmas with their families, under government plans unveiled Wednesday.
Universities will switch to online tuition by December 9 while students will be encouraged to return home during a “travel window” through the preceding week.
Health officials and university staff will work with transport operators to ensure there are staggered departure times during the seven-day window, according to the guidance.
A second wave of the coronavirus pandemic prompted the government to impose a four-week national shutdown this month, ordering people to stay at home and most businesses to close.
It is due to end in England on December 2.
The government has said it will help universities test as many students as possible before the travel window, with institutions in areas of high coronavirus prevalence prioritised.
Those testing positive must self-isolate for 10 days, but then should still have enough time to travel home under the plans.
“You can never eliminate the risk — we’re amidst a pandemic,” Universities Minister Michelle Donelan told Sky News.
“What we’re doing, is trying to manage that risk, reduce it and give students the confidence to go home.”
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said the mass movement of students in the run-up to Christmas “presents a really significant challenge within the COVID-19 response”.
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“It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to,” she added in a statement.
Britain has been the worst-hit country in Europe by the pandemic, recording nearly 50,000 deaths from 1.2 million positive cases.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has responsibility for health policy in England only, with devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland coordinating their own responses.