SOUTHAMPTON university students will be able to travel home to spend Christmas with their families after the lockdown ends on December 2.

But the city's 34,000 students will have to comply with the current national restrictions by staying in their term-time accommodation throughout the four-week shutdown.

From December 3 to December 9 they will be allowed to travel home on staggered departure dates set by universities.

The travel window will mean students can undertake journeys having just completed the four-week period of national restrictions, reducing the risk of transmission to family and friends at home.

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The government says it will work closely with universities to establish mass testing capacity.

Tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they travel home for Christmas, with universities in Covid hot spots given priority.

If a student tests positive before their departure they will need to remain in self-isolation for the required period of ten days.

The announcement was welcomed by Lorna Fielker, Southampton City Council's cabinet member for health and adult care.

She said: "I am pleased to hear government have listened to the concerns voiced by students and put in place a national plan to ensure they can return home for Christmas.

"Southampton’s public health team will continue their work with our universities to support them to put the plans for testing and travel in place.”

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The government's announcement will be welcomed by the thousands of students at Southampton University, the city's Solent University and Winchester University.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan added: “We know this Christmas will feel different, and after this incredibly difficult year we are absolutely committed to getting students back to their loved ones in time for the Christmas break.

“But I know residents in Southampton might wonder how students leaving campus, or those coming back to the area, might affect them.

"I want to reassure everyone that we have worked really hard to find a way to do this for this group, while limiting the risk of transmission.

“With the national lockdown measures, staggered leave times, safer travel guidance and any additional assurances from testing, we are confident transmission can be controlled, and we can enable these students to have the Christmas break they deserve.”

Universities are expected to work with local public health officials and transport operators ensure students can travel home safely at the end of term.

A government spokesman said: "Students should follow the travel guidance, which includes wearing face coverings unless exempt, avoiding busy routes and times, and limiting car sharing with only their household or bubble where possible.  

"We are working with the other governments across the UK to ensure that all students are treated fairly and can travel home as safely as possible to keep all our communities safe.

"Universities have also been asked to provide additional help and practical support to students, particularly for students who remain on campus over Christmas, which can include care leavers, international students and students estranged from their families.

"Universities should ensure they are properly cared for and can access affordable food, medical and cleaning supplies if needed."