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Students and staff at the University of Chester and University Centre Shrewsbury are being tested as a precautionary measure when they arrive at newly re-purposed facilities on the Exton Park (Parkgate Road,) Chester and Warrington sites and in Shropshire as the spring term begins in earnest.

Gradual return

The majority of students have not returned to University in person. Updated UK Government guidelines specify that only students on practical courses, such as those training key workers including health and social care, education and policing, are permitted back. Over the first week alone, 508 University of Chester first year Nursing students went into placements locally, supporting the healthcare sector during the third wave of the pandemic.

Eleanor Lewis, Chester Students’ Union President, said: “Working on placements during COVID-19, our student nurses, teachers and others on professional courses are very conscious that they are part of the public services team which is tackling the pandemic. As a Students’ Union, we are very proud that they are doing their bit as ‘Citizen Students’.”

Most students are starting 2021 with online lectures until mid-February at the earliest, according to the official lockdown restrictions, with a carefully controlled, staggered return process in place. This mirrors the gradual departure arrangements undertaken before Christmas, to avoid the associated risks of large numbers travelling at once.

Accommodation fees

Chester has opted not to charge its students for rent in University accommodation until they are actually living there, unlike a growing number of institutions, whose students have been staging rent strikes to press for refunds for currently unoccupied rooms. The University and Chester Students’ Union are also urging private landlords to be similarly sympathetic if possible and a number have already agreed.

Asymptomatic testing

Those students who are allowed to attend some face-to-face sessions as part of their studies – and the essential team teaching and supporting them – have been having Lateral Flow Tests, which are designed for people not showing any COVID-19 symptoms or feeling unwell.  Each person takes a test twice a week, every week.  Anyone with a positive LFT result is asked to inform the University’s own contact tracing service.

In the first fortnight, just eight students and employees received a positive test result from a total of 1,243 tests conducted at the Testing Centres, operated by student and staff volunteers.

Professor Eunice Simmons, Vice-Chancellor, said: “So far at the Testing Centres, we have picked up eight students and staff, who could then self-isolate.  We have prevented them unknowingly sparking any outbreaks. We have also reassured hundreds of people that they have tested negative, although they have been reminded that, even if they have had a negative test at that point in time, it is essential that they continue to adhere to the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ advice.

“The Testing Centres were developed over Christmas to add to the meticulous control measures we have introduced since the first days of the pandemic. I’m indebted to the team of ‘Citizen Students’ and staff who have been working round the clock to ensure we keep our locations and the wider community as safe as possible – and to those students being tested, who are busy supporting key workers during the pandemic.

“We now have the arrangements in place to cater for health checks on a large number of people. So, we are also in discussion with local public health agencies and head teachers to see whether our facilities and logistical expertise could be used to help administer a service for the general population, as schools may become involved in testing and as the vaccination programme is rolled out at speed by the NHS.”

 

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