Asymptomatic COVID-19 screening programme

Weekly asymptomatic screening programme for COVID-19 at the University of Cambridge

See here for Easter Vacation 2021 COVID-19 testing arrangements

The University of Cambridge is providing all students living in College accommodation and the majority of students living in private accommodation with a test for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, even if they show no symptoms. These tests will be offered on a weekly basis. In combination with contact tracing and the University’s established testing facilities for symptomatic students and staff, the programme is part of our proactive approach to reducing the risk to other students, staff and members of the local community.

Around half of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop symptoms, such as a high temperature, cough, or a loss or change in their sense of smell or taste. Others show no symptoms, and are unaware that they are infected at all (they are asymptomatic). Among university students, the rate of asymptomatic infection may be even higher. We know that people with SARS-CoV-2 infection but no symptoms can still spread the virus to others. The aim of the screening programme is therefore to identify students with asymptomatic infection, so they can avoid infecting more students or members of the Cambridge community.

Students use a swab to take a sample from their nose and throat. Swabs are pooled by household, enabling the University to reduce the number of tests required to around 2,000 per week. Samples are sent to the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Facility. If a pooled household test is positive, the students in the household will be informed within 24 hours and offered individual tests to confirm the positive result. Students with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection and their household and contacts will be supported in following national guidance on self-isolation and household quarantine.

Participation in the programme is voluntary, but we encourage everyone to take part. The vast majority (80%) of eligible students have already signed up – if you haven’t signed up yet, please join us. It is essential for helping us keep you, your friends and colleagues, and the wider community safe.

Read our feature article 'Safety Screens' about how the programme was set up and run.

How to take your swab

The following film shows you how to take your swab and what to do with your sample. 


Weekly reports on asymptomatic screening programme

Easter Vacation

Lent Term 2021

Michaelmas Term 2020

See also: Asymptomatic screening and genome sequencing help Cambridge understand spread of SARS-CoV-2 among its students

Further information

Further detailed information on the programme can be found here. If you have any further questions, please contact us at

Note: These documents relate to the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme as it was launched in Michaelmas Term 2020. Since then, there have been various refinements to the operation of the programme, described in these web pages, including updated protocols and answers to FAQs. These documents and webpages should therefore be read together. The legal framework in which the programme operates, including all the substantive privacy/data protection implications, remain as described here.