Hypocrisy and neglect: The government’s handling of student COVID-19 testing

DMU journalism student Samuel Hornsby gives his opinion on the contradictions of coronavirus testing for uni students.

Photograph by Tim Dennell: Accessed via Creative Commons.

Down by the River Soar sits The Watershed, a building which usually houses sports events for De Montfort University.

Recently, though, as there have been no sporting events, the budding has been transformed into an NHS Test and Trace centre capable of mass testing for students and staff alike.

Before returning to in-person teaching, students are required to undergo two lateral flow tests taken three days apart – and the facility is offering booked appointments at the venue to test all students.

For those travelling back to in-term accommodation for upcoming face-to-face study it is ideal. Only a short walk from the campus and the building can handle the high capacity of rapid tests that are imperative to ensure an outbreak does not occur.

Everything seems peachy – until you factor in commuting students. For them being tested prior to returning isn’t a simple as one may initially think.

If such a student had to travel in for the test on public transport and then tested positive, then they are knowingly putting people in danger when travelling back. Clearly, this is not an ideal or practical situation.

However, the university has clarified if there are local testing facilities nearer to the student’s home, they can use those instead. This seems to be the ideal solution to the problem and minimises risk.

Unfortunately trying to get tested locally as a university student is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare with each department just as bewildered and confused as the last who throw you from person to person like a game of pass-the-parcel.

Let’s go through the journey of finding out where you can get tested locally and try not to pull your hair out in frustration.

The natural place to start is the government booking website where you put in your postcode and then get sent to the page of your relevant county council. On there it lists all the testing sites. When you search up said sites you realise although they are called walk-in centres you still have to book before the test. Fine. There’s a phone number so this shouldn’t be a problem.

The phone number does not go through to the testing centre and is instead a generic NHS number. They have a list of testing sites but not how to book at those sites, so they recommend contacting the district council. This is because they are a smaller body that should know more about specific local testing in your area. Turns out they don’t.

District Councils only have the same list as the NHS which provides the names of facilities without any further information, but they do give you the government website to book through. A huge leap forward, it’s just a shame that leap is into a previously unseen pit.

When booking through the government website you have to provide a reason for why you wish to be tested.

Reasons include: being an essential worker, showing symptoms of coronavirus or have been invited to receive a test as part of a trail amongst other possible criteria.

School students are also allowed to have access to such tests through booking, but this excludes university students who if they do not any other criteria will be greeted with a message of not being eligible to book a test at this point in time.

This begs the question as to why they cannot access local testing centres, especially when school children, as well as sixth form and college students, can. It was the same government policy that told them to go back to in-person education. That policy didn’t specify university or school, it simply said ‘students’, yet where they get easily accessible testing, university students do not.

If you are lucky enough to live in a city, then you may find yourself able to access a non-bookable community asymptomatic testing site for those living in rural areas these are not an option as they only cater to the boroughs in which they are set up.

Furthermore, to rub that extra bit of salt in the wound, to order a home test kit from the government website you must once again fall under a category from the aforementioned list of criteria that excludes those at university.

When trying to find a way to test locally an NHS staff member on the phone admitted they have had to tell people to simply lie in order to get the tests they require. They confessed it may not be moral but they aren’t being given other options.

So, if you are a commuting student, good luck, stay safe and cross your fingers the government will be more consistent with their next set of COVID-19 policies.

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