Exclusive: Cambridge’s plan to give students weekly Covid tests will cost £1.3 million

Students living in colleges are being offered a test every week

Cambridge University’s plan to offer a weekly Covid test to every student living in colleges will cost the university £1.3 million, The Tab can reveal.

The university has so far spent £420,000 on the programme, which has a capacity of 2,000 tests a week.

However, Cambridge students have expressed concern about near-universal testing being available at such an elite university, but not elsewhere. “It’s a classic case where a crisis has meant that the divide in society is worsening,” one student told the FT.

In order to test all 16,000 students living in colleges, Cambridge is operating “pooled” testing, where samples are taken from every household. If the test comes back positive, the whole flat is tested through the university’s “testing pod”, which is able to conduct 700 tests a week.

According to university data, 75 per cent of students have signed up to the pooled scheme.

The pooled testing programme is forecast to cost £903,097, of which £390,000 has already been spent. The pod testing scheme is estimated to cost a maximum of £447,790, of which £29,992 has already been spent.

An eventual £361,000 will be spent on staff costs for running the twin schemes.

Samples are tested on site in the university’s Anne McLaren Building. The university makes the tests itself, so does not spend anything on buying test kits.

While pooled testing allows a far greater number of students to be tested for less money, some experts have raised concerns over the possibility for false positive tests – where students are told they have the virus when they don’t. “You could end up quarantining students and staff and their contacts, and their whole households, unnecessarily and causing a lot of hardship,” Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told the BMJ.

Two other universities running testing schemes – Exeter and Nottingham – refused to disclose the costs of the programmes. Meanwhile, Nottingham Trent’s scheme will cost an anticipated £2 million.

By contrast, Manchester University – which has confirmed nearly 2,000 Covid cases – has been told by Public Health England not to conduct its own testing programme.

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Featured image: SWNS