University of Leeds Vice Chancellor provides information on government-advised ‘travel window’

Last Thursday, the government’s Department for Education advised students returning home for Christmas to do so within a designated ‘travel window’. The ‘window’, open between the 3rd and the 9th December, commences as the four week national lockdown is expected to be lifted. In order to make travelling in this condensed time frame as safe as possible, mass testing will be made available for students beforehand.

How exactly the ‘travel window’ would operate was left up to individual universities’ discretion, with each devising their own approaches to the end of the term.

A week on from the government’s announcement, Vice Chancellor Simone Buitendijk has released a statement detailing the University of Leeds’ procedure. In line with government requirements, face-to-face teaching will end on 9th December, two days before term finishes, with the remaining teaching outside the ‘window’ to take place online. This will ensure that students have enough time to complete a period of self-isolation should they test positive. Those who cannot participate in face-to-face classes due to travel plans or illness will not be penalized.

The University of Leeds will also be providing testing services, specifically for those not experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. The asymptomatic testing facilities on campus will be based in the Refectory in the Union and in the Edge, the on-site sports centre, from 30th November onwards.

In today’s statement, Buitendijk advised students who don’t have face-to-face teaching after the 2nd December to book a test in the earlier days of the window. The asymptomatic tests are allegedly easy to self-administer and results are said to arrive in “a matter of hours.” Meanwhile, students with symptoms are to book a test at a centre via the NHS app as usual.

The statement reads,

“Please be aware that the Government advises that you ideally should have two asymptomatic tests, three days apart, before you leave the University. You must make your journey immediately (within 24 hours) after receiving your final negative test result.

If your test is positive you are legally required to self-isolate and travel ten days after the result of your asymptomatic test, or ten days after the start of your symptoms (if you develop symptoms after the test). 

If you are a contact of someone who tests positive on 30 November or in December, you must have a confirmed negative asymptomatic test result before you travel. When you reach your destination must complete the 14-day self-isolation period.” 

The University pledges that support and help will be available for those self-isolating in Leeds.

Josh Elgin, a first-year student, told the Gryphon that he thought the imposed ‘travel window’ made sense. “I think this is actually an example of a rare government success in its response to the pandemic. Asking students to return home immediately after the national lockdown finishes makes sense because the risk of us having the virus will be significantly lower as a result. It was pretty clear, speaking to my friends and the people on my course, that most students would return home for the holidays regardless of whether they were actually allowed to, so all the government could do is reduce risk and I think this policy will do that.”

The approach, however, doesn’t leave room for nuance, with students who work or live abroad unable to follow the government’s advice. “I’m unable to return home in the travel window because I have a part-time job at a supermarket in Leeds and I can’t transfer to the store in my hometown until later in December”, said Josh. Similarly, Marojlaine Marsile, a French international student here at Leeds, commented that “I feel like we are not sufficiently informed about the ‘travel window’ and what international students are supposed to do. I haven’t planned anything yet, I’m still confused about the situation. Perhaps France will still be in lockdown and I’ll have to stay here. This is my only fear.”

With regards to returning to Leeds in January, the University plan to continue face-to-face teaching “where it is safe, practicable, and educationally advantageous or necessary”. “We expect students to join us in Leeds next term, but if for any reason you are unable to do so you will be able to study remotely and will receive support and a high-quality online education from us, to the best of our ability.”

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