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International students now facing holiday uncertainty: university tests ‘not fit to fly’

The University of Edinburgh have confirmed further details of plans to test students for Covid-19 before they return home for the winter break.

Students will be offered two ‘lateral flow’ tests to be taken between three and five days apart, which will be available starting 30th November.

The tests will only be available until 9th December, even though the examination period is not due to end until 21st December.

The lateral flow tests were recently used for mass testing in Liverpool and can return test results much quicker than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, the standard test used in NHS testing centres, as they do not require laboratory processing.

However, lateral flow tests are not sufficient evidence to be ‘fit to fly’, meaning some students travelling internationally to get home will still have to pay for a private test to cross certain borders.

Students returning home internationally is still applicable as an exemption to travel restrictions across the UK, regardless of the tier or level of local restrictions.

A spokesperson for University of Edinburgh told The Student: “the testing programme is part of nationwide plans led by the Scottish and UK Governments and are being carried out in partnership with universities.”

Speaking to The Student, President of Edinburgh University Students’ Association Ellen MacRae said: “The Sabbatical Officers have worked hard to emphasise students’ needs for additional asymptomatic testing provisions before they booked travel for the end of this semester. 

“We hope that all students who want to be tested before 9th December, can do so. If they test positive, which will be confirmed by an NHS PCR test, there will be enough time to quarantine and return home in time for Christmas. 

“We agree that a longer period would offer more flexibility to students, but this time frame had been determined by Scottish Government. 

“We are in discussion about provisions for the new year and Semester Two. Any student who has Covid-19 symptoms is still able to get tested at the Usher Hall facility.”

This comes as Richard Lochhead, Scottish Government Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, wrote to students following Tier 4 restrictions being introduced in 11 council areas in Scotland.

In the letter he 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.”

The University of Edinburgh have confirmed that tests will require an advance booking but have not yet made the booking system available.

Tests will be administered at St Leonard’s Land or Pleasance Sport Complex. Centres will be open between 10:00 and 20:30 daily.

Both the Scottish Government and the university suggest students “voluntarily reduce their social mixing for two weeks before going home” as well as getting tested.

Image: U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) via Wikipedia