M632 – Universities Coronavirus Testing Motion 2020

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Andrew97
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M632 – Universities Coronavirus Testing Motion 2020, TSR Liberal Democrats

This House calls upon the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in co-operation with the Secretary of State for Education, to implement regular asymptomatic testing for university students as they return to university this autumn.



There are ongoing concerns about the potential for coronavirus spikes in university towns and cities as students return for the new academic year. This time of year is already renowned for seeing the spread of fresher's flu, and there is a risk that coronavirus will spread in much the same way, as people from all over Britain and the world congregate on certain towns and cities and live in close proximity.



As younger people are less likely to exhibit symptoms and be asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus, the existing system of only testing people who exhibit symptoms risks being insufficient to control the spread of coronavirus in universities. We therefore propose that all students and staff at universities are offered, and encouraged to make use of, regular coronavirus tests, whether or not they show symptoms. Following any positive test results, the process of contact tracing, isolation and testing of contacts should take place to avoid the spread of coronavirus to potentially vulnerable members of the university community, or to the other residents of university towns and cities.



We feel that it is important that students return to university in person if at all possible, and that university life is as 'normal' as possible, while taking reasonable precautions against the spread of coronavirus. A robust and effective test-and-trace scheme would significantly expand the freedoms that students could enjoy, as well as putting members of the community both within and beyond our universities at ease about what is set to be a significant movement of people later this month.

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04MR17
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And just like that, as one Lib Dem motion on Universities is withdrawn, another one appears.

I am not opposed to this motion.
There is a good example of this currently in Southampton, and I think similar could be replicated for the other universities in the UK - however it will take time to build up the resources to be able to operate mass testing, so this change couldn't be overnight.

I also feel obliged to highlight that many students are at a much lower risk of carrying the virus to family members when living away from them compared to commuters.
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Jammy Duel
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So while non-antibody testing is running just shy of capacity we want to waste tests on those with near 0 risk who are not showing symptoms just in case they are ill which takes capacity away from the higher risk portions of the population and those who are at least exhibiting symptoms, even if over 95% of the time it isn't covid.

Makes sense to me /s
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Theloniouss
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How regular is regular?
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Miss Maddie
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Nay! The fundamental idea behind this is wrong.

We know people in the vulnerable category due to age can be asymptomatic carriers. As time goes by we know asymptomatic carriers are more and more present. We know the most vulnerable people should not venture to busy places despite the government saying different. The strategy should be advising the extremely vulnerable people to avoid shops and pubs, and regular testing should be conducted on their support bubbles. If we can prevent the most vulnerable from catching COVID-19 through their support bubbles, the rest of society can start returning to normal. Wasting spare testing capacity on students doesn't help stop the most vulnerable people catching COVID-19.
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Miss Maddie
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
How regular is regular?
That would be up to your colleague to decide.
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Theloniouss
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(Original post by Miss Maddie)
That would be up to your colleague to decide.
Yeah, but it's a question worth actually answering so we can determine whether people are voting for weekly testing or bimonthly testing - those things being quite different.
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04MR17
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(Original post by Theloniouss)
Yeah, but it's a question worth actually answering so we can determine whether people are voting for weekly testing or bimonthly testing - those things being quite different.
Well I can give you a flavour of what I'd be saying if this were to pass, which isn't dissimilar to my post above.

If we can get all university students tested once (who want to be), and then a small portion tested twice, by Christmas: that's a victory.

If it's possible to accelerate that to being tested 3 times, maybe 4 from January to the end of the academic year (so averaging just under 1 a month) then I personally think that'd be reasonable too.

I'm not arguing that that's what *should* be done, but that's what I'd say is a realistic aim if this motion were to pass. The Health Secretary may feel that other more vulnerable groups need high access to testing and so these targets would need to be reduced, but I think the house would be reasonable to take the numbers offered in this post as ceiling figures for what might be possible.

I'd be interested to hear what the Lib Dems think about this.
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Saracen's Fez
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(Original post by 04MR17)
And just like that, as one Lib Dem motion on Universities is withdrawn, another one appears.

I am not opposed to this motion.
There is a good example of this currently in Southampton, and I think similar could be replicated for the other universities in the UK - however it will take time to build up the resources to be able to operate mass testing, so this change couldn't be overnight.

I also feel obliged to highlight that many students are at a much lower risk of carrying the virus to family members when living away from them compared to commuters.
Yeah, Cambridge have announced similar today as well. Idk if we have unusual or additional testing resources but it's very welcome.

And yes, we need to be particularly vigilant with students going home. I think we should probably tell students living away from home not to return home during term-time unless under exceptional circumstances, and perhaps look at prioritising testing of students who are going to be moving around, though equally testing capacity is not a static thing and can be built up further...
(Original post by Theloniouss)
How regular is regular?
Under the Cambridge proposals they've announced today (after this was submitted) they're offering weekly tests. That would be the ideal point to reach, in my opinion, but the motion is deliberately worded flexibly.
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El Salvador
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I'm sceptical as to its effectiveness, given that this will be a dynamic group that will be continuously in contact with others. Although of course if you do it every week, it will likely minimize any outbreak on campus.

But, given that universities are under financial strains, and especially in this upcoming year with more home students (they likely lose money having them) and much fewer international students, and fewer graduate students as well, I'm not sure how this is the best way to use their existing resources. In fact, HRH The Prince of Wales and I have been invited to speak at a small Meeting Minds event in the hopes of getting more support for the college. I can only imagine the financial pressure other universities are facing right now.

If this is coming out of the treasury, then we will have to think about whether it's worth prioritizing the health of a group that is less vulnerable to the virus. This would be the same as fully-funded university education - perhaps good in a perfect world, but inappropriate when money is limited, and doesn't actually target those in need.

Lastly, I'm generally uneasy with instructing universities to do things beyond the legal requirements. Universities have their own medical researchers as well as financial officers to determine the balance between the costs and benefits, and I would say better than Her Majesty's government could ever do. A blanket policy from the government I don't think would be appropriate.

Just like our MR released earlier on university reopening, first of all I believe any such policy should be purely advisory, and secondly, I'm not convinced by the benefit or the necessity of this.
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Saracen's Fez
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(Original post by El Salvador)
I'm sceptical as to its effectiveness, given that this will be a dynamic group that will be continuously in contact with others. Although of course if you Lastly, I'm generally uneasy with instructing universities to do things beyond the legal requirements. Universities have their own medical researchers as well as financial officers to determine the balance between the costs and benefits, and I would say better than Her Majesty's government could ever do. A blanket policy from the government I don't think would be appropriate.
The reason for using government resources and making this a compulsory thing (to operate tests if not to take tests) would be that university cities are inhabited by more than just students. If it is indeed the case that people of university age are disproportionately responsible for the spread of coronavirus, this would be to protect all the residents of those cities, and avoid them becoming hotspots. Just as in rural areas when tourism restarted, people living in university cities will doubtless be concerned about an incoming tide of coronavirus as students move back to uni.
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Napp
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This seems somewhat redundant given by the time someone has been tested and potentially isolated odds are they would have infected someone else and so on so forth.. no?
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04MR17
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(Original post by Napp)
This seems somewhat redundant given by the time someone has been tested and potentially isolated odds are they would have infected someone else and so on so forth.. no?
Test results at the moment are back after around a day or two I believe? That's not the biggest window for infection - especially when people with symptoms should be taking precautions anyway. The new saliva test stuff they're trialling could have results in 20 mins potentially.
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04MR17
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(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
Under the Cambridge proposals they've announced today (after this was submitted) they're offering weekly tests. That would be the ideal point to reach, in my opinion, but the motion is deliberately worded flexibly.
I think there's a big difference between the figure that Cambridge are proposing (and must clearly have capacity to process) and what the government is able to do on a national scale. If this is something the house wants to see then I think we need to move closer to an agreeable rate of testing. It might be best waiting for the health secretary abucha3 to offer thoughts at this point.
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CatusStarbright
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I like this idea in theory, but like others in this thread I am concerned about capacity.

I know that my university too has committed to making tests readily available, but as yet I cannot find details about eligibility. It's possible they may allow people without symptoms to get tested, especially since our labs are being used to process tests.
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Rakas21
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Mr Speaker, i'm inclined to support the idea in division however note that testing capacity is not something we can endlessly increase above canon.

According to the BBC current testing capacity is around 250,000 (excluding anti-body) with around 200,000 tests actually occurring and in canon the government wants to increase capacity by around another ~130,000 (to 500,000 overall - including anti-bodies). What one must bear in mind though is that the current local strategies mean that capacity is not distributed equally and so at times when many places in the North East are experiencing high rates of Covid it is not apt to maintain the same capacity in university cities which are otherwise recording low rates.

In short although i shall support the general aim the reality is that i am not sure how practical it will be to implement and so beyond updating guidance to universities and students (perhaps to have every student tested every three months so they can try facilitate this) i am not certain what one can do.
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Tinders
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I'm prepared to support this motion. The only way to protect university students, as well as the local residents from coronavirus, is to know exactly who carries the virus, and that those who do carry the virus take the appropriate course of action. If we do not conduct testing at universities, there is a greater likelihood that the disease will spread amongst universities as well as university towns. Should this happen, it could lead to a second wave and another nationwide lockdown. A lockdown would not only exacerbate the already existing economic issues but also impact a vast number of lives, driving friends and families apart.

Whilst I recognise that current research shows university students are less vulnerable to the COVID-19 than other groups, universities, due to such large amounts of staff and students could become a hotbed for the spread of the disease. Regular testing for university staff and students must be organised in order to help stave off the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 and more misery.
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JMR2020.
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I support this motion.
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Aph
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Whilst I am not fundamentally opposed to this, with it being announced today that the government target of testing millions a day (as I understand it) would cost £100bn, I find it hard to support what would, I guess, be about a seventh of that (There are close to 3m students in the UK, assuming that we test 1m a week) to look after a low-risk demographic.
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El Salvador
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(Original post by Saracen's Fez)
The reason for using government resources and making this a compulsory thing (to operate tests if not to take tests) would be that university cities are inhabited by more than just students. If it is indeed the case that people of university age are disproportionately responsible for the spread of coronavirus, this would be to protect all the residents of those cities, and avoid them becoming hotspots. Just as in rural areas when tourism restarted, people living in university cities will doubtless be concerned about an incoming tide of coronavirus as students move back to uni.
If your worry is the (re-)introduction of the virus into university towns, then you could conduct one test before students returns, rather than weekly tests.
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