What Does a COVID Christmas Mean for Students?

Goldsmiths students are worried about the potential ban of students returning home for Christmas, which may come into effect to prevent the spread of COVID-19 around the UK. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock publicly announced at the end of September that he refused to rule out banning students from returning at Christmas to limit the spread of coronavirus outbreaks. 

Goldsmiths, University of London doesn’t seem to have any plans to prevent students going home in December.

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: “The Government is due to provide guidance to universities and students in England about the Christmas break in the next few weeks.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and will offer further guidance and support to our students as needed. We will continue to share regular updates and advice with our students through email, the Goldsmiths app, and our website.”

On BBC Radio 4s Today Programme, Hancock said: “I don’t want to have a situation like that, and I very much hope we can avoid it… In terms of universities, we are working very closely with them to try to make sure the students are safe, but that they can also get their education.

“I’ve learned not to rule things out and one of the challenges that we have is how to make sure people are as safe as possible. This is not our goal; I don’t want to leave you with the expectation – but we have to work on all contingencies at the moment.”

However, hopes of a Christmas miracle are not completely lost as the Government turns to the possibility of a staggered return to university and a greater move towards online learning.

In Politics Scotland, Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney shared the prospective plan of a staggered return to universities with online learning in order to allow for greater testing and prevention of a repeat of the number of outbreaks seen as a result of the autumn-term return. 

He said: “Some of the points we are looking at are staggered returns of students, arrangements for how testing can be part of the architecture of how we handle that return. Also, what expectations we have of students when they are returning home and when they return to universities, and how their learning will be undertaken.” 

Swinney elaborated on the motivations for this approach, saying that the government doesn’t want to strain the testing system or spread COVID-19.

He said: “Practicalities are eased if return of students is staggered over a longer period and we are working with institutions because they have to be partners with us on how the learning is undertaken over that period. We want to avoid any situation where there is too much strain on the testing system or on the possibility of the circulation of the virus when students return or when they return to their homes in the first place.”

Whether or not this approach will be implemented across the UK remains to be seen.

In an interview with Sky News on October 28, Minister George Eustice said that it is too early to say what Christmas will look like this year. 

He said: “We [the Government] want people to have a Christmas that is as close to normal as possible. There will undoubtedly be frustrations about the restrictions, but people also understand we have to control the spread of the virus.”