UCL to offer Covid-19 testing to staff and students

The UCL Cancer Institute aims to provide 1000 tests a day

UCL has announced plans to offer Covid-19 tests to staff and students who are symptomatic. Led by the UCL Cancer Institute, an antigen facility has already been established and is delivering successful pilot tests for a limited number of staff in line with the Government’s guidance for universities.

The university’s aim is to provide up to 1,000 tests per day, starting on the 28th of September for the beginning of the academic year. Testing of asymptomatic staff and students will not be undertaken as of yet. Those who test positive will be referred to the NHS Track and Trace system, with the programme designed as an addition to the national testing scheme. To access the tests, staff and students will have to go to an online tool called “Connect to Protect,” which will notify the university of the possibility of them having coronavirus. The tool will give individuals step-by-step guidance for reporting their symptoms and the process of getting a test.

UCL already has various safety measures in place for staff and students around campus. These include wearing masks when on campus, a limitation of face-to-face teaching and social distancing rules in libraries and study spaces, as well as booking systems in place. UCL also released the news that students will be allowed self-certified extenuating circumstances for up to 14 calendar days on two separate occasions for 2020-21. This is to support students affected by illness or disruption to their studies, such as the need to self-isolate. The certification period will cover assessments, coursework, and exams if they fall within that time.

Alternative universities in London have taken similar precautions to UCL, such as LSE, where it is mandatory to wear a mask when in communal spaces or shared areas indoors. Whilst they don’t yet have their own testing facility, LSE is introducing temperature checks on campus and is aiming for small seminars, tutorial groups, and teaching sessions to run in person on campus.

Imperial College London’s advice to students who have symptoms associated with Covid-19 is to stay at home and follow the NHS guidelines on booking a test themselves, as well as follow the Track and Trace system if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. However, Imperial has taken a different route with academic teaching, as they are able to host in-person lectures at the Business School whilst still adhering to social distancing measures.

Other research-based universities such as the University of East Anglia (UEA) have taken a similar route to UCL. UEA is offering voluntary testing to staff and students during the early weeks of the first term, after completing successful pilot testing earlier this summer. UEA has gone a step further than UCL however, offering asymptomatic testing to all those on campus.

Similar income universities to UCL, such as Oxford University, have taken alike precautions in preparation for the upcoming academic year. Oxford’s ‘Early Alert Service’ will offer in-house testing for all staff and students with major or minor symptoms. The University of Cambridge will focus their safety precautions primarily on those students living in College accommodation. These students will be offered a self-administered weekly test for Covid-19, even if they are asymptomatic.

Safety measures such as UCL’s ‘Connect to Protect’ mean that coronavirus within universities can be closely monitored, however as the current UK climate changes, universities are sure to adapt their response according to advice from public health experts and Government guidance.