ESSEX University will launch a Covid-19 testing programme as students begin to return to campus.

Students and staff at its three campuses, including in Wivenhoe, will be able to have a rapid Covid-19 IgG/IgM antibody test.

The test, which takes 20 minutes, will be offered to all students and around 1,000 frontline staff.

Students were beginning to return to the Wivenhoe campus today with term set to begin next Thursday.

The test programme announcement comes a week after it was confirmed five people linked to the university’s elite sports programme had tested positive for the virus.

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Registrar Bryn Morris said: “We’re introducing this testing programme to create the safest possible environment for learning and research at our campuses.

"Our testing will allow us to identify any cases at the earliest possible moment and respond quickly to contain any spread of infection.

“Although the tests are voluntary we expect that our staff and students will fully support them and help all of our community to feel as confident as possible as the new term starts.”

The testing programme will be delivered by Thornbury Nursing Services at dedicated testing centres established at each campus.

The tests will focus on identifying asymptomatic individuals – people who may have COVID-19, but are not displaying the symptoms.

The test involves taking a small blood sample via a finger prick with the result ready in 15 minutes.

If someone tests positive for IgM antibodies this means they have been infected by Covid-19 and might still be infectious.

They will be advised they will need a follow up swab test which will be sent to a laboratory.

The university said if there is a clinical need it will be able to provide a swab test to students so they don’t have to go off site for a follow-up test and can go into self-isolation straight away

Everyone having the ‘rapid test’ at the start of term will then be tested a week later to ensure the testing programme is as effective as possible and to monitor for any increases in asymptomatic cases within the University community.

The university will then be offering the ‘rapid result’ test to a sample of students and staff on a weekly basis.

On-site temperature checks are also being introduced alongside the on-going sample testing.

The university will publish details of Covid-19 infection rates and other Covid-19 related information on an online digital dashboard.

Mr Morris said: “Testing is just one part of our extensive measures to protect our community on our campuses including additional hand sanitising and hand washing facilities, way finding and signage to promote social distancing and mandatory use of face coverings in teaching rooms and other appropriate locations.

“We’re phasing the reintroduction of face-to-face teaching and other on-campus activities so we can carefully monitor the impact of each phase. And we’ll be using a dual-delivery approach for all of our courses. This approach blends face-to face learning, tutorials and group work with a range of virtual lectures and other online activities enhanced by the latest digital learning tools and techniques.

“It gives us a built-in way to move to off-campus or remote delivery at any point during the year, which means less disruption and ensures our students’ wellbeing, whatever the circumstances.”