Fears of a major Covid-19 outbreak in St Andrews have been heightened after more than three quarters of students said they planned to head home for the Christmas holidays.
North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie has called for students across Scotland to be tested on their return to university, as well as before they go home, to avoid mistakes made earlier this year.
The Scottish Government has said testing will be carried out before students go home for the winter break.
Mr Rennie said testing was also essential in January too in order to avoid a repeat of what happened in September when students were forced to isolate in their halls of residence.
It comes as a St Andrews University Students’ Association survey showed 76% of respondents are planning to leave the town over the break. Just 11.5% are planning to stay, and 12.5% remain undecided.
“If students are not tested before the return after Christmas we are risking another outbreak in St Andrews,” Mr Rennie said.
“There would be real anger if that was allowed to happen.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said the commitment to test students before Christmas was “better late than never”.
“The failure to do this in the autumn allowed new clusters of Covid-19 to break out across university communities,” he said.
“Students and universities need clarity about how these tests will be rolled out, what the testing window will be and whether tests will be made available at the end of the holiday period.
“We also need to ensure that there is support available for those students who are unable to return home over the Christmas period, including mental health support where it is needed.”
St Andrews University said it was awaiting further details from the Scottish Government on Covid testing.
In an email to students, Principal Sally Mapstone said: “Asymptomatic testing will be offered to all students who are intending to travel home at Christmas.
“It will be voluntary, but is strongly encouraged so you can be reassured that you are not carrying Covid home with you.”
The tests rely on what is known as “lateral-flow” technology, and give a result within 30 minutes. Students may be asked to take two tests in a five-day period.
If they test negative, they will be asked to take extra care and restrict their social activity before they travel home.
If the test is positive, they will be asked to take a further Covid test under the NHS Test and Protect Scheme to confirm the initial result. They will also be required to self-isolate, along with members of their household and any other close contacts.
Further education minister Richard Lochhead has not yet committed to testing at the beginning of next semester but said lessons will be learned.
“It is clear that the return after the New Year will not be normal and we will work with the sector to offer as much clarity for students and staff as we can in the coming weeks,” he said.
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