Government-led COVID-19 testing for those who don’t have symptoms of the virus has begun at the University of East Anglia (UEA) to allow students to safely return home for the winter break.
The new asymptomatic rapid test site opened at Sportspark on Sunday 29 November and will function until Wednesday 9 December as part of the government’s strategy to co-ordinate the safe-return of students to their families for the holidays during the 3-9 December travel window.
This comes as the government announced last week that it will be possible for some household mixing during the festive period across the UK.
UEA is working with NHS Test and Trace on this initiative, with similar schemes in place at universities up and down the country. Testing will help reduce the risk of transmission from students who may be unaware they are carrying the virus to their loved ones at home who may be more vulnerable.
Students are encouraged to get tested twice during the first week of December using rapid Lateral Flow (LF) Devices, with each result returned within 24 hours. Should students test positive they will be asked to take a follow-up NHS test. If that test is positive, they will need to self-isolate at the university with support for 10 days, still with enough time to return home for the winter break.
The LF devices being provided to universities do not require a laboratory to process the test and can be conducted at a dedicated testing site by trained personnel.
The rapid testing is also available to UEA staff who are regularly on campus supporting students who will be staying on campus over the holidays.
Prof Neil Ward, UEA’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “This has been a tough year for our students, and we are really pleased to be able to offer them peace of mind as they return home to spend well-deserved rest with their loved ones.
“We hope lots of students will take up the offer of testing as they start to look towards going home and considering health for their friends and families.
“It is our priority to support those who are doing the right thing and isolating before they travel, and of course our campus remains open over the festive period for those who are staying on site with us.”
The new rapid testing being introduced is separate to that which has been provided by the Norwich Testing Initiative (NTI) to all UEA students and staff who are frequently on campus since the start of term. NTI testing at UEA will end on Friday, 27 November and all UEA staff and students should then use the rapid testing.
For those students with placements and for those staff regularly on campus after the rapid testing period ends, NTI testing is available on dedicated days in December.
Em Anderson, uea(su) Welfare Officer, said: “Coming out of lockdown, it’s imperative that we continue to look after our families, friends, and local communities leading up to the winter break. World Health Organisation data suggests that 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild or asymptomatic, so it’s really important students get tested even if they feel completely fine and well.
“I have booked my tests as I will be spending the winter break with my family. Booking was easy and it being on campus makes it really convenient.
“As the government recently suspended admin fees for students to rearrange rail travel during the student travel window, it's now easier for students who had already booked train tickets to reschedule and travel as safely as possible. But whatever your plans for the winter break are do look after yourself and stay safe.”
Students have been given advice around arranging travel, the support available to them from the University and when each Faculty will be moving to online teaching.
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “We’ve already come so far since first setting up a national testing programme at an unprecedented pace to help counter COVID-19, but we continue to strive to go further, faster.
“Innovations such as lateral flow technology hold the key to the next phase of our ambition to see mass, rapid testing available to people across the country.
Baroness Dido Harding, Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “NHS Test and Trace continues to play a leading role in the fight against COVID-19 with over 32 million tests processed so far. This ATS is one of many which will lay the foundations for the next phase of NHS Test and Trace – mass testing - which will allow us to test even more people, even more quickly.”
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “We are committed to get students back to their loved ones for the Christmas holidays as safely as possible, after this challenging year.
“Our plans already minimise the risk of students moving at the end of term, through staggered departure dates in the ‘student travel window’. But testing will offer further assurances that students can keep their families safe this winter, and I urge all students who can to take the tests on offer.”
Students and staff can find more information here - https://my.uea.ac.uk/covid-lateral-testing
Anyone with symptoms should follow the guidance online on how to book a NHS PCR test –https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test – or call 119. Lines are open 7am to 11pm.