Minister updates on students going home over Christmas

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Richard Lochhead sends ‘letter to students’ reassuring that travel restrictions won’t affect return home

The Minister for Higher Education has stated that the new travel restrictions, introduced in light of areas of Scotland moving to Level 4, will not affect students returning home for the festive season.

The Scottish Government has recently enforced legislation to ban travel between different areas of Scotland in an attempt to reduce COVID infection rates and hospitalisation- hopefully in time for citizens to celebrate the festive season with family.

Despite this travel ban, students will not be subject to these restrictions when travelling home.

Lochhead said: “We are planning for you to be able to travel home at the end of term, from your term-time address and join one other household (such as your family home). We will ensure that any travel restrictions in place do not prevent you travelling home at the end of your term.”

Lochhead also elaborated on the updates guidance for universities, colleges, and higher education in general, stressing the importance of adhering to the restrictions of the tier system while studying- in particular for those in accomodation.

The letter stated: “As for everyone, you should continue to follow guidance and the law in relation to social gatherings and travel in your area.

“You should remain in your term-time accommodation if you are able to, in line with our guidance on visits home. It is extremely important that you, particularly those in Level 3 and 4 areas, follow this advice to prevent any further spread of COVID-19 and risking the lives of loved ones.

“It is important that whatever level your institution is in, your should have the opportunity to continue with a high quality learning experience, even if more learning and teaching is moved online in Level 3 and Level 4.”

Lochhead, as of yet, has not given concrete sentiment regarding the particulars of mass testing plans, such as dates, times, and bespoke advice. Instead, the Minister has reiterated general advice to students concerning the essential nature of a two week social break to prepare for travelling home, and the necessity of adhering to this in order to return home safely, reducing the risk for both the student, and the wider community.

“We are advising any student who wants to return home for the end of term to voluntarily reduce their social mixing for two weeks before going home.

“This means going out only for essential reasons, such as classes, shopping for food, and exercise. This is the advice for all, but it is most vital to those of you leaving from higher level areas and those who are returning to households with vulnerable family members,” the letter stated.

Again, regarding testing, Lochhead has given no concrete outline for plans to deal with the effect of mass testing on test centres, but the message around booking a test ASAP is clear:

“We strongly recommend you take up the offer of a COVID-19 test using a lateral flow device before you return home – even if you are not showing any symptoms – to help reduce the risk to your family and community. These tests produce rapid results within half an hour of the test being carried out and will be arranged through your college or university who will provide further details on how to do this.”

However, as of yet, Stirling University have no specific guidelines or mechanism for booking the new 30 minute test, something echoed across higher education facilities in general.

Stirling University responded to Lochhead’s letter by acknowledging its existence, but provided no further details on this new testing method, indicating that further guidance from the Scottish Government is required, contrary to Lochhead’s statement concerning universities providing the details about this.

“The letter highlights the Scottish Government’s commitment to keep learning open and safe as far as possible, while balancing the risks of COVID-19 to health and society, and links to the most recent guidance for colleges, universities and student accommodation, in relation to the coronavirus strategic framework,” the 19th of November Student Bulletin stated.

It is unclear as of yet how to access the new testing method, however it can be speculated that more information could be obtained by contacting the mobile testing site on campus. There is no official recognition by Stirling University as of yet that the Scottish Government have directed students to their universities in relation to accessing this testing method.

Further announcements are expected.

It is imperative that you book a test and self isolate if you wish to go home for the festive period, to minimise the risk to society and adhere to the guidelines given by the Scottish Government. Do not wait until the last minute, as an influx of last minute tests could delay or otherwise hinder travel plans of students.

Featured Image Credit: John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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