Students at Cambridge University will be offered weekly coronavirus tests

Cambridge university building

Testing will be voluntary and available to all students in university-owned accommodation

Students at the University of Cambridge will have the option to take coronavirus tests on a weekly basis even if they’re not showing any symptoms of Covid-19, the university has announced.

The testing will be completely voluntary, although “it is hoped that the great majority of students will take part,” the university said in a statement.

“Offering testing to all students in college accommodation, who make up the majority of our student population, will help us reduce the risk of outbreaks by identifying individuals who will often not be aware that they are infected,” commented Professor Patrick Maxwell at the University of Cambridge.

The weekly tests will be available to all undergraduate and postgraduate students living in accommodation belonging to one of the university’s colleges from the start of term on 8 October.

To take the test, students will use a swab on their nose and throat. The swab will then be sent to the Cambridge Covid-19 testing facility on the university’s biomedical campus.

To keep down the number of tests that need to be used, they will be pooled by household. This means it won’t be necessary for everyone from each household to take a test each week, because if only one student from a household had a positive result, it would be fairly likely that the rest of the household may be positive too.  

A household will count as a unit where students share communal facilities, such as showers or a kitchen.

By pooling the tests per household, the university has estimated that it should only need to use around 2,000 tests each week.

If a test comes back positive, all of the students within that household will be told within 24 hours and offered their own tests to check whether they have Covid-19.

Anyone who is confirmed to have coronavirus, their household and their contacts will be given support from the university to help them follow the government guidance on self-isolation and household quarantine.

Students who live in private accommodation will not be eligible for the weekly tests, although they will be able to take a free test if they’re showing symptoms.

This is “due to limited capacity,” Cambridge said in its statement.

“The risk of transmission and outbreaks is expected to be higher in college accommodation, where the density of students and potential for interactions are greater; hence, the programme is targeted at these students,” the statement added.

This announcement from Cambridge follows warnings from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that universities are “highly likely” to have “significant outbreaks” of coronavirus, and that they should try to minimise in-person contact as much as possible.

Other UK universities have also started announcing their plans for providing Covid-19 tests. Students at the University of East Anglia will be offered tests at the start of term, with a plan to roll out more regular testing throughout the year.

Those at the University of Exeter will have access to coronavirus tests with very fast results, and students at Oxford will have quick access to free tests if they think they have symptoms of the illness.

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