Updated on 29/6/21

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Update on testing at the end of Easter term and over the summer vacation

One week extension of pooled screening programme

In response to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 at the University, the Asymptomatic COVD-19 Screening Programme will continue to operate as normal for 1 week longer than originally planned. This means that the last days of pooled screening will be on Monday-Wednesday 5-7 July, NOT Monday-Wednesday 28-30 June as previously stated.

Please note that, it will NOT operate over the summer vacation. If you will be resident in Cambridge over this period, we instead recommend that you sign up for lateral flow testing. You will then receive an email with further information about how to obtain lateral flow test kits, register each test and report results to both the University and the NHS.

This one week extension of the pooled screening programme will allow time for students remaining in Cambridge to order and receive lateral flow test kits. Because of limitations on the manufacture and distribution of pooled screening test kits, a longer extension will not be possible. Further information about testing over the summer vacation is available below.

Availability of tests on 2 July

In response to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 at the University, confirmatory PCR tests for students with positive LFTs, ‘Pre-departure’ tests and tests for enhanced contact tracing will be available Mon-Fri (instead of Mon-Thurs) for the week beginning Mon 28 June. Compared with previously, this means that these tests will now also be available on Fri 2 July.

As usual, you will be able to obtain test kits from your College. Please remember to drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day (not the College collection points used for pooled screening tests!). There are no collections over the weekend! Results will be reported to you the following day.

End of Easter term

The Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme will continue to operate as normal until the end of Easter term, with the last days of pooled screening on Monday-Wednesday 5-7 July, NOT Monday-Wednesday 28-30 June as previously stated. You should plan your departure from Cambridge as soon as possible after a negative pooled screening test, and at least within 1 week.

The most appropriate travel day will therefore depend on the swab day for your College, as well as fixed commitments such as General Admissions.  For example, if your swab day is Monday 28 June, you could plan to travel (assuming your pooled screening test is negative) on Tuesday 29 June. Alternatively, if you will be attending a Degree Congregation on Friday 2 July, you could plan to travel on Saturday 3 July.

If this is not possible (for example, because you are not eligible for the screening programme), if you receive a ‘void’ result from your pooled screening test, or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 1 week between the swab day for your College and your date of travel, we will also be offering a limited number of additional individual ‘Pre-departure’ tests. If you think you will need one of these tests, please contact your College as soon as possible to let them know.

Because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19. It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether.

You can minimise your risk by limiting your social contacts in the 7 days prior to testing, and in the period between a negative test and your departure from Cambridge.

Summer vacation

The Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme will continue to operate as normal until the end of Easter term, with the last days of pooled screening on Monday-Wednesday 5-7 July, NOT Monday-Wednesday 28-30 June as previously stated. It will NOT operate over the summer vacation.

If you will be resident in Cambridge over the summer vacation, we instead recommend that you sign up for lateral flow testing. You will then receive an email with further information about how to obtain kits, register each test and report results to both the University and the NHS.

Compared with PCR tests, the lateral flow tests made available by the government are much less sensitive. It is therefore important to take these tests TWICE every week. In practice, we recommend taking the tests on MONDAY and THURSDAY mornings.

In the event of a positive result, you will be able to obtain a confirmatory test from your College that same day. These confirmatory tests will be available Monday-Thursday inclusive throughout the summer vacation.

In addition to confirmatory tests, 'Return to Cambridge' tests, 'Pre-departure' tests, and tests for enhanced contact tracing will also be available from your College Monday-Thursday inclusive throughout the summer vacation.

Finally, we will be continuing to offer testing at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods for any student or staff member with symptoms of possible COVID-19 over the summer vacation, whether or not they have participated in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme

Our pooled screening programme commenced in Michaelmas term and ran throughout Lent term and the Easter vacation for students resident in Cambridge. It will continue to operate as normal until the end of Easter term, with the last days of pooled screening on Monday-Wednesday 5-7 July, NOT Monday-Wednesday 28-30 June as previously stated. It will NOT operate over the summer vacation.

For those students who have not participated in the programme since Michaelmas term, please note that a number of changes to the programme were introduced at the beginning of Lent term, including to the swab days for several Colleges.

Changes to the programme for Easter term

Compared with Lent term, there are a few new changes to the programme for Easter term:

  • Because of the closure of the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre at the University's Anne McLaren Building on 25 April, we will be using an alternative testing laboratory From the point of view of students and Colleges, this will not affect the operation of the programme.
  • For students who are not eligible to participate in the programme, lateral flow tests have now been made available by the government for all adults in England to perform regular asymptomatic screening.

Previous changes to the programme for Lent term

Compared with Michaelmas term, there were several important changes to the programme during Lent term, which remain in place:

  • We have been able to extend the programme to include many students living in private accommodation.
  • ​Pooled screening test kits are now supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. They do NOT have the names of the students in your testing pool on the front. Instead, they must be assigned to your testing pool using a QR code or website URL on the test kit envelope. Please take a look at our guide to registering your kit for instructions. 
  • ALL students contributing swabs MUST now each scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope at the time of swabbing, not just the pool lead. Submission of swab counts will therefore no longer be required.
  • Because of the reduced number of students currently in Cambridge, only 5 swabs are now supplied with each test kit. If more than 5 members of a testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.
  • Students in College accommodation are now screened Monday-Wednesday, depending on their College. Students in private accommodation and eligible to participate in the programme will be screened every Monday, irrespective of their College.
  • Students in College accommodation should now drop screening test samples at College collection points by 12:00. Students in private accommodation or from one of the Houses of the Cambridge Theological Federation should drop screening test samples at one of the drop-boxes used for the collection of individual confirmatory tests by 13:30.
  • SMS results notifications are now only sent to students contributing swabs, NOT household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.
  • In line with the most recent UK government guidance, household contacts of students with confirmed COVID-19 are now only required to isolate for 10 days. Likewise, students with confirmed COVID-19 are requested NOT to take part in pooled sample collection for 90 days.
  • Students who are self-isolating for any reason but have not themselves tested positive may now continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test, not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below)

Frequently asked questions

I live in College accommodation, but I didn’t participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme last term. Can I join this term?

Yes, please do, if you are expecting to be in Cambridge. You simply need to complete our online consent form.

I live in private accommodation. Can I participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Students living in private accommodation are eligible to participate in the programme if they live in a household or support bubble (two linked households) with at least one other student at the University (from their own or a different College).

Examples include:

  • 2 students from College X living together in a house.
  • 2 students from College X living together in a house with 2 students from College Y.
  • 2 students from College Y living together in a flat with their 2 children (only the students may participate).
  • 1 student from College X living alone in a flat and 1 student from College Y living alone in a nearby flat where the households are linked in a support bubble.
  • 1 student from College X living alone in a flat and 2 students from College Y living together in a nearby flat with 2 other adults (not University students) where the households are linked in a support bubble (only the students may participate).

In addition, students living in private accommodation who would not otherwise meet these criteria are eligible to participate in the programme if they live in a household or support bubble with somebody who is clinically vulnerable (at high or moderate risk from coronavirus infection). These additional students will be treated as “pools of one” (only the students may participate).

If you live in private accommodation and would like to join the programme, you will need to confirm details of your testing pool with your College at least 5 days in advance, and complete our online consent form. Your College will then inform us of your decision, and we will then ensure that you are included.

For students who are not eligible to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, lateral flow tests have now been made available by the government for all adults in England to perform regular asymptomatic screening.

Will I be penalised if I do NOT participate?

Absolutely not, participation is entirely voluntary. It is grounded upon students’ willingness to keep themselves and their communities safe. There must therefore be no coercion, direct penalties or other undue pressure from the University or Colleges. Students should not be told that ‘they must participate’, or that ‘students who do not participate will be refused entry to University or College facilities or events’ (or equivalent statements). This does not, of course, preclude the University or Colleges strongly encouraging students to take part, in a positive and compassionate way. Small tokens of appreciation may also be offered.

Students who decline to participate will still be informed by their College if COVID-19 is detected in their household, and expected to follow guidelines on self-isolation. In line with the GDPR (data protection) and other laws, and with appropriate data minimisation and safeguards, personal data held by the University and Colleges about participants and non-participants may be used to support programme evaluation and COVID-19 research (for example, to evaluate rates of participation, infection and infection detection).

Are there any circumstances where evidence of participation may be requested?

The University or Colleges may wish, as part of an overall risk reduction strategy, to request evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test (by whatever means) as a basis for inclusion or exclusion in services or events. The means for evidencing a negative COVID-19 test in such cases might include (but not be limited to) any of: participation in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme; screening using a lateral flow test from the UK government; or testing from another suitably accredited public or private provider. Additionally, the rate of participation in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme may be one of the factors included as part of a risk assessment. These approaches would not be considered directly linked penalties, incentives intended to drive participation, nor undue pressure to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

For further information, please see our statement on incentives and penalties relating to the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

Further recommendations are available in the general ethical framework for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing programmes for students in higher education institutions developed by THIS Institute (The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute)  is available here 

If I participate in the programme, when will screening take place?

Everyone who has agreed to participate in the programme and returned to Cambridge for Easter term will be invited to contribute a swab every week, unless they have completed an exclusion report (see below for further information on exclusions).

Participating students living in College accommodation will be invited to take part in pooled sample collection Mon-Weds, on the same day each week (swab day), depending on their College:

Participating students living in private accommodation will contribute to pooled sample collection every Mon (irrespective of their College).

You will receive a reminder email the day before your swab day, indicating who is in your testing pool, and who should (and should not) take part in pooled sample collection.

Are there any circumstances under which I should not take part?

You should not contribute a swab if you have not consented to participate in the programme, or if you:

If you have consented to participate in the programme and receive an email inviting you to contribute a swab, but belong to any of these groups, please let us know by following this link and selecting 'Report exclusion'.

*If you are self-isolating on your swab day for any reason, you should take an individual test, not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below)

What if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

If you have one or more of the main symptoms of COVID-19 (a high temperature, new cough, or a loss or change to your sense of taste or smell), you should not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, please self-isolate and book a test through the University symptomatic testing pathway or access an NHS test.

You may still participate in pooled sample collection if you have minor symptoms, such as a sore throat or nasal congestion.

What if I’m not in Cambridge?

If you have already consented to participate in the programme, but will not be in Cambridge during Easter term, please follow this link and select 'Report exclusion'. You will continue to receive updates about the programme, as well as reminder emails, but you will not be invited to participate in pooled sample collection. SMS results notifications will only be sent to students contributing swabs, not household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.

What if I’m self-isolating?

If you are self-isolating on swab day, please do not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, follow this link and select 'Report exclusion'. This exclusion applies whether you are self-isolating because you have been in contact with somebody with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, or have recently travelled to the UK from another country.

During Easter term, students who are self-isolating for any reason but have not themselves tested positive will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test, not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below)

In line with the most recent UK government guidance, household contacts of students with confirmed COVID-19 are now only required to isolate for 10 days. When a case of COVID-19 is detected by the screening programme, household contacts will generally therefore perform one ‘Test to check’ individual test during their period of self-isolation, then re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection the following week.

If you have recently returned to Cambridge from another region of the UK and are limiting your social contacts prior to COVID-19 testing, you are not considered to be formally self-isolating, and you may take part in the programme.  

How can I obtain a test kit?

Pooled screening test kits are no longer named or pre-assigned. The mechanism for distributing test kits differs between Colleges, and they will notify you in advance of the arrangements. This may, for example, involve distribution of a test kit to the pigeon hole of your pool lead, or pick up from an appropriate collection point the day before your swab day.

Pooled screening test kits will be supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. They will not have the names of the students in your testing pool on the front. Instead, they must be assigned to your testing pool using a QR code or website URL on the test kit envelope.

How do I take my test?

Please take a look at our revised swabbing protocol, which describes what to do with your test kits, and how to take your test.

Unlike in Michaelmas term, all students contributing swabs must scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope at the time of swabbing, not just the pool lead. Submission of swab counts will therefore no longer be required.

Because of the reduced number of students in Cambridge, only 5 swabs will be supplied with each test kit. If more than 5 members of your testing pool will be participating in pooled sample collection, additional swabs may be obtained from your College.

As a reminder, the video below shows how to take your test. 

Where you should drop off your pooled sample depends on what sort of accommodation you live in:

How will I get my result?

You will receive a text message the day after you take your test, informing you of the result. Your College will also be provided with the result, and support you if required. Please contact your College, or email us, if you have not received your result by 15:00.

Unlike in Michaelmas term, SMS results notifications are now only sent to students contributing swabs, not household or testing pool members who do not contribute swabs.

What happens if my pooled screening test is positive?

If you contributed a swab to a positive pooled screening test, you and your household will be asked to self-isolate immediately, and you will be able to obtain an individual confirmatory test kit from your College. These test kits are supplied in white envelopes.

Please don’t forget to read the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test to remind yourself how to do so – this is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it is very important that you scan the QR code on the test kit envelope, to ensure your details are linked to the sample.

Please then ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest designated drop-box by 13:30 that same day. It is especially important that students wear face coverings when dropping off these samples.

What sort of tests are used?

The Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Because of the closure of the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre at the University's Anne McLaren Building on 25 April, we will be using an alternative testing laboratory during Easter term. From the point of view of students and Colleges, this will not affect the operation of the programme.

Tests will therefore now be conducted by Excalibur Healthcare Services, a private company based on the Cambridge Science Park. Excalibur has chosen the same PCR assay as the one used in the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre, and their staff have been working closely with our team and the team at the Cambridge COVID-19 Testing Centre to ensure a seamless change-over.

We have updated our Privacy notice to reflect the change in testing laboratory. As previously, the testing laboratory will not have access to any information that could identify participating students.


What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive pooled screening tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives. However, the risk of receiving a false positive pooled screening test, followed by a false positive individual confirmatory test, is exceptionally small. The potential issue of false positives is therefore effectively mitigated by our two-step testing strategy, involving both screening and confirmatory tests.  

What is the chance of a false negative?

Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, PCR tests are much more sensitive. Nonetheless, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19.

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative pooled screening test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

Should I participate in the programme if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of people with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

If you have already consented to participate in the programme and receive an email inviting you to contribute a swab, but have had confirmed COVID-19 in the previous 90 days, please therefore do not take part in pooled sample collection. Instead, simply let us know by following this link and selecting 'Report exclusion'.

What if somebody in my household has had COVID-19?

Most people with COVID-19 (with or without symptoms) shed viral RNA (detected by PCR tests) for 2-3 weeks. However, a small number of individuals may continue to shed viral RNA for several weeks, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others. This is one of the reasons why students who have had confirmed COVID-19 are excluded from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme until 90 days after their infection.

Compared with casual contacts, there is an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 within households. If somebody in your household has confirmed COVID-19, it may therefore be passed on to you (or other household members), and – if you do not develop symptoms, and are not tested during your period of self-isolation – you may not know that you have been infected.

If you are next tested after your period of self-isolation has ended, you may still have a positive test, reflecting “previous” (old) rather than “current” (new) infection. There is no way of distinguishing these two possibilities, and you and your household would therefore be required to complete a further 10 days of self-isolation.

To minimise the risk of this happening, students who are self-isolating during Easter term will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test and not participate in pooled sample collection (‘Test to check’, see below).

What if I’ve been vaccinated?

Clinical trials have demonstrated conclusively that the vaccines being delivered across the UK are effective at reducing the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infection. While early data are promising, it is currently less clear whether and by how much they reduce the risk of asymptomatic infection, and therefore the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

In line with national guidance, we therefore recommend that prior vaccination should not influence the decision to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or other screening programmes or tests (such as ‘Return to Cambridge’ or ‘Pre-departure’ tests).

Please note that vaccination will have no direct impact on your test results. In particular, there is no risk of a false positive result with the vaccines that are currently available and the PCR tests we use in Cambridge.

Will the programme operate as usual on bank holidays?

Yes, unless we specifically state otherwise, the programme will continue to operate as usual on bank holidays.

Why will the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme not operate over the summer vacation?

Term ended on Friday 18 June, and we were planning to suspend the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme on Weds 30 June. In response to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19, the programme will now continue until Wednesday 7 July.

We recommend that students remaining in Cambridge beyond that date sign-up for screening using twice-weekly lateral flow tests (LFTs). Extending the pooled screening programme for one week will allow time for these students to order and receive their test kits.

Whilst a longer extension will not be possible, confirmatory PCR tests for students with positive LFTs will be available throughout the summer, together with 'Return to Cambridge' tests, 'Pre-departure' tests, and tests for enhanced contact tracing. We will also continue to offer tests for students or staff member with symptoms of possible COVID-19.

The risk of COVID-19 transmission should be mitigated over the vacation by the reduction in student numbers, density and potential for interactions, as well as the increasing impact of vaccination. Nonetheless, we fully understand the concerns of students remaining in Cambridge, and will monitor the situation closely.

Finally, we urge all students who have not already done so to book their vaccination online, or by calling 119. There is clear evidence that vaccinations significantly reduce levels of infection, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. Students who receive their first dose now are more likely to have received their second dose before the beginning of Michaelmas term.

What is ‘Test to check’?

If students are self-isolating for any reason (for example, because a member of their household or close contact has tested positive, or because they recently returned from international travel) but have not themselves tested positive, they will now be able to continue to be screened on a weekly basis while they self-isolate, on their usual swab day. However, they should take an individual test and not participate in pooled sample collection.

In-line with the most recent UK government guidance, household contacts of students with confirmed COVID-19 are now only required to isolate for 10 days. When a case of COVID-19 is detected by the screening programme, household contacts will generally therefore perform one ‘Test to check’ individual test during their period of self-isolation (7 days after their household’s positive pooled screening test), then re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection the following week.

Following the detection of a case of COVID-19 by symptomatic testing, the timing will be more variable, and some students may perform two ‘Test to check’ individual tests during their period of self-isolation, before re-joining the programme of weekly pooled sample collection.

In either case, ‘Test to check’ is only available for students who are participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

How will ‘Test to check’ work in practice?

Students will need to obtain a test kit for ‘Test to check’ from their College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests. The protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test is slightly different to the protocol for pooled screening. In particular, it’s very important to scan the QR code or enter the website URL on the test kit envelope, to ensure that the correct student details are linked to the sample.

Students in College accommodation should drop pooled samples at College collection points by 12:00. Students in private accommodation or from one of the Houses of the Cambridge Theological Federation should drop pooled samples at one of the drop-boxes also used for the collection of individual confirmatory tests by 13:30.

What’s the point of ‘Test to check’ and what are the implications of a positive or negative result?

The idea of these tests is to check whether or not students who are self-isolating for any reason have become infected because of their possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2 infection. This will help reduce the risk of ongoing transmission within households (by identifying ‘secondary’ infections) and prevent repeated periods of household quarantine.

If the test result is positive, it should be treated in the same way as a positive symptomatic test. Students with positive test results will therefore need to self-isolate for a further 10 days following the date of the test. Where other household members are already self-isolating, however, their period of self-isolation will generally not need to be extended.

This is part of the rationale for conducting these tests during the period of self-isolation; without ‘Test to check’, students with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection may otherwise be picked up in the next round of pooled screening, leading to a further period of 10 days self-isolation for them and their household.

If the ‘Test to check’ test result is negative, it will NOT mean that the student’s period of self-isolation can be shortened. This is in accordance with current UK government guidance and reflects the fact that a single negative test can rule out most, but not all, ‘secondary’ infections, following a possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (depending on the timing).

Nonetheless, students with negative ‘Test to check’ results will be able to re-join the programme of weekly pooled sample collection after their period of self-isolation knowing that their risk of having a positive screening test result because of “previous” (old) rather than “current” (new) infection, has been greatly reduced.

How can I find out further information?

If you can’t find your answer here, you can email the COVID-19 helpdesk or the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. Because of the high volume of enquiries, we may not be able to respond immediately.

Lateral flow tests for students

Rapid lateral flow (antigen) tests have recently been made available by the government for all adults in England to perform regular asymptomatic screening. We recommend their use for students who are NOT eligible for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or who will be resident in Cambridge over the summer vacation.

Commonly referred to as ‘LFTs’, these are hand-held devices that may be used at home and provide a result more rapidly than ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests (usually within 30 minutes, as opposed to 24 hours). However, they are not as sensitive and therefore miss about half of the infections picked up by PCR.

Should I use lateral flow tests or participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Wherever possible, we recommend that students participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. First, PCR tests are much more sensitive, and therefore pick up more asymptomatic students with COVID-19 (fewer false negatives). Second, the programme allows us to monitor rates of infection across the University, as well as the number of students taking part every week. Third, it has been running successfully since Michaelmas term 2020, helping to protect students and the wider Cambridge community.

We recommend the use of government lateral flow tests for students who are NOT eligible for the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme (for example, students living in private accommodation who do share a household or support bubble with at least one other student). In addition, we recommend their use for students resident in Cambridge over the summer vacation, when the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme will not be operating.

How can I obtain and take lateral flow tests?

You can sign up for lateral flow testing via the University website. You will then receive an email with further information about how to obtain kits, register each test and report results to both the University and the NHS.

LFTs are currently available free of charge to all adults in England through the NHS. They can be ordered for home delivery, or collected from some pharmacies or test sites. Instructions on how to take the tests are included with the kits.

When and how frequently should I take a lateral flow test?

Compared with PCR tests, the lateral flow tests made available by the government are much less sensitive. It is therefore important to take these tests TWICE every week. In practice, we recommend that students take the tests on MONDAY and THURSDAY mornings. In the event of a positive result, students may then obtain an individual confirmatory test from their College that same day.

What if I have symptoms of possible COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of possible COVID-19, you should NOT take a lateral flow test. Instead, please self-isolate and book a test through the University symptomatic testing pathway or access an NHS test.

How can I report the results of lateral flow tests?

Further information about registering tests and reporting results will be provided when you sign up for lateral flow testing. All government lateral flow test results, whether positive or negative, should be reported to NHS Test & Trace. You will need to inform the University that you have taken a test, so that we can monitor the number of LFT tests being taken, but you do not need to inform us of a negative result.

What should I do if my lateral flow test is positive?

If your lateral flow test is positive, you and your household should self-isolate immediately, just like if you had symptoms of possible COVID-19. You may then obtain a confirmatory PCR test via your College. These tests will continue to be available throughout the summer vacation.

Confirmatory tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. Your College is responsible for distributing test kits to eligible students. Therefore, please contact your College as soon as possible to let them know if and when you plan to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College. 

Individual test kits will be supplied in white envelopes, and are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest drop-box by 13:30 that same day. You must wear a face covering when dropping off your sample. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

If you obtain a positive lateral flow test result Fri-Sun, when confirmatory PCR tests are not available from the University, you should obtain a confirmatory PCR test from the NHS.

What should I do if my lateral flow test is negative?

Because of the latent period of viral infection, a single PCR test is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19. Lateral flow tests are much less sensitive than PCR tests, and therefore miss even more infections (more false negatives).

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative lateral flow test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

What if I have a positive lateral flow test, followed by a negative PCR test?

If your lateral flow test is positive, but your confirmatory PCR test is negative, please continue to self-isolate and request a second confirmatory PCR test from your College. This is because, the false positive rate from lateral flow tests is relatively low and, whilst uncommon, false negative PCR tests can occur. A second negative PCR test is therefore required to be certain that you do not have COVID-19. This is the same approach we take for students participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, who have a positive pooled screening test, followed by a negative individual confirmatory test.

How can I find out further information?

Further information about government lateral flow tests is available from the NHS Test & Trace website. If you still have questions, you can email the COVID-19 helpdesk.

'Return to Cambridge' tests

All students returning to Cambridge are advised to get tested for COVID-19 before they travel, using either community facilities (where available) or a home lateral flow (rapid) test.

You should then also get tested as soon as possible after your return. If feasible, please therefore plan your travel to enable you to participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme on the normal swab day for your College. For instance, if the swab day for your College is a Monday, please aim to return on the preceding Sunday.

If this is not possible (for example, because you are returning to Cambridge over the summer vacation, when the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme is not operating), or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 3 days between your return and your next swab day, you should instead take an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test.

You will need to obtain a test kit from your College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, and tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. These tests will continue to be available throughout the summer vacation.

Please note that, if you have had a positive test for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you should not take part in asymptomatic screening.

Frequently asked questions

Can I take a ‘Return to Cambridge’ test if I am not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Yes, these tests are available for all students. If you are not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, please take special care when you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope, because we will text your result to the mobile number you provide at that time (see below).

Is it preferable to take a ‘Return to Cambridge’ test, or participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Wherever possible, we recommend that you participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. First, our two-step testing strategy (including an individual confirmatory test) effectively mitigates the risk of receiving a false positive result. Second, regular (rather than one-off) screening is a much more effective way to reduce transmission of COVID-19 within the Cambridge community.

How can I book a test and obtain a test kit?

Tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. Your College is responsible for distributing test kits to eligible students. Please, therefore, contact your College as soon as possible to let them know if and when you plan to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College. Please be supportive of their efforts! Some students, for example, may need to compromise on the day they take their test, to ensure that the system works for everyone.

How do I take a test?

Individual test kits will be supplied in white envelopes, and are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest drop-box by 13:30 that same day. You must wear a face covering when dropping off your sample. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, ‘Return to Cambridge’ testing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore now be processed by Excalibur Healthcare Services.

Is it OK to use a government lateral flow test instead?

Students returning to Cambridge for Easter term are advised to get tested for COVID-19 before they travel to Cambridge, using either community facilities (where available) or a home lateral flow (rapid) test.

After returning to Cambridge, we recommend participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, or (if necessary) taking an individual ‘Return to Cambridge’ test. Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, these PCR tests are much more sensitive, and therefore pick up more asymptomatic students with COVID-19 (fewer false negatives).

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive, as well as receiving your test result from us, you will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace. You will be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days, as described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni and UK government websites. Your College will be informed of your test result, and provide further support.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives.

What is the chance of a false negative?

Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, PCR tests are much more sensitive. Nonetheless, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19.

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

Should I get tested if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of individuals with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

Do I need to self-isolate when I return to Cambridge, while awaiting my pooled screening or 'Return to Cambridge' test result?

If you have recently returned to Cambridge from another region of the UK, you are strongly encouraged to limit your social contacts until you have received a negative test result. Nonetheless, testing is not mandatory, and you are not legally obliged to self-isolate.

Please note that specific testing arrangements apply for international students returning to the UK.

 

'Pre-departure' tests

You should (if at all possible) plan your departure from Cambridge to enable you to take part in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme immediately before you travel, and at least within 1 week.

The most appropriate travel day will therefore depend on the swab day for your College, as well as other fixed commitments. For example, if your College swab day is Monday, you should – other things being equal – plan to travel on a Tuesday (assuming your pooled screening test is negative).

If this is not possible (for example, because you are not eligible for the screening programme), if you receive a ‘void’ result from your pooled screening test, or if there will be an unavoidable delay of more than 1 week between the swab day for your College and your date of travel (for example, because of a fixed commitment), we will also be offering a limited number of additional, individual ‘Pre-departure’ tests (similar to ‘Return to Cambridge’ tests).

You will need to obtain a test kit from your College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, and tests may be taken Mon-Thurs inclusive. These tests will continue to be available throughout the summer vacation.

Because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19. It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it does not eliminate that risk altogether.

You can minimise your risk by limiting your social contacts in the 7 days prior to testing, and in the period between a negative test and your departure from Cambridge.

Please note that, if you have had positive test for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you should not take part in asymptomatic screening.

Frequently asked questions

Can I take a ‘Pre-departure’ test if I am not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Yes, these tests are available for all students. If you are not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, please take special care when you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope, because we will text your result to the mobile number you provide at that time (see below).

Is it preferable to take a ‘Pre-departure’ test, or participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Wherever possible, we recommend that you participate in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme. First, our two-step testing strategy (including an individual confirmatory test) effectively mitigates the risk of receiving a false positive result. Second, regular (rather than one-off) screening is a much more effective way to reduce transmission of COVID-19 within the Cambridge community.

How can I book a test and obtain a test kit?

Tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. Your College will be responsible for distributing test kits to eligible students. Please, therefore, contact your College as soon as possible to let them know if and when you plan to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College. Please be supportive of their efforts! Some students, for example, may need to compromise on the day they take their test, to ensure that the system works for everyone.

How do I take a test?

Individual test kits will be supplied in white envelopes, and are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest drop-box by 13:30 that same day. You must wear a face covering when dropping off your sample. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, ‘Pre-departure’ testing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore now be processed by Excalibur Healthcare Services.

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive, as well as receiving your test result from us, you will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace. You will be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days, as described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni and UK government websites. You will not be able to travel during that period. Your College will be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive ‘Pre-departure’ tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives.

What is the chance of a false negative?

Compared with the lateral flow tests made available by the government, PCR tests are much more sensitive. Nonetheless, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test (without a preceding period of quarantine) is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with COVID-19.

It is therefore critical to remember that, while a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus away with your from Cambridge, it does not eliminate that risk altogether. For that reason, it is essential that students with negative test results continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website.

You can minimise your risk by limiting your social contacts in the 7 days prior to testing, and in the period between a negative test and your departure from Cambridge.

Should I get tested if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of individuals with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

 

 

Enhanced contact tracing

During Easter term, the COVID-19 Helpdesk will be organising tests for selected students and staff members who may have been in contact with somebody with confirmed COVID-19, and who haven’t otherwise been tested.

These individuals may be household or close contacts, who are also required by law to self-isolate. Alternatively, they may be individuals who have attended an event or place linked to transmission, who are not routinely required to self-isolate. 

Standard ‘forward’ contact tracing aims to identify contacts of people with COVID-19, who may go on to develop infection. In contrast, the aim of this enhanced contract tracing is to work ‘backward’, to identify the original source of infection. Backward contact tracing is therefore able to identify a larger proportion of the transmission chain than forward contact tracing alone.

If requested by the COVID-19 Helpdesk, students will need to obtain a test kit from their College. These will be the exact same kits used for individual confirmatory tests, and tests may be taken Monday-Thursday inclusive. They will continue to be available throughout the summer vacation.

Frequently asked questions

Can I take a test for enhanced contact tracing if I am not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme?

Yes, these tests are available for all students. Enhanced contact tracing for students and staff with COVID-19 is being undertaken as a collaboration between the University and the local public health team. If you are not participating in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, please take special care when you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope, because we will text your result to the mobile number you provide at that time (see below).

How can I book a test and obtain a test kit?

Tests may be taken Mon-Thurs inclusive. Your College will be responsible for distributing test kits, as requested by the COVID-19 Helpdesk. Please therefore contact your College as soon as possible to let them know that you need to take a test. Further information about how to obtain a test kit will then be provided by your College.

What if I’m asked to take a test on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday?

These tests are only available Mon-Thurs. If the COVID-19 Helpdesk requests that you take a test Fri-Sun, they will explain how you should obtain a PCR test for COVID-19 from the NHS instead.

I think I might have been exposed to COVID-19, but I have not been contacted by the COVID-19 Helpdesk. Should I get a test?

No. You should only take a test for enhanced contact tracing if requested to do so by the COVID-19 Helpdesk. If you are in any doubt, please contact the COVID-19 Helpdesk directly at covid-helpdesk@admin.cam.ac.uk.

How do I take a test?

Individual test kits will be supplied by your College in white envelopes, and are NOT interchangeable with the pooled screening test kits supplied in brown envelopes with blue stickers. Please follow the protocol for taking an individual confirmatory test, which is supplied with every kit.

When you register your kit using the QR code or website URL on the envelope (Step 15 of the protocol), you will additionally be asked to provide your mobile phone number. This step is critical, because we will use it to text you your result.

Please ensure you drop off your double-bagged sample at the nearest drop-box by 13:30 that same day. You must wear a face covering when dropping off your sample. Please note, these drop-boxes are NOT the same as the collection points for pooled screening tests.

You should receive your test result the following day. Your College will also be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, enhanced contact tracing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. Samples will therefore now be processed by Excalibur Healthcare Services.

Will I need to self-isolate while awaiting the test result?

Individuals requested to take tests for enhanced contact tracing may be household or close contacts, who are already required by law to self-isolate for 10 days. Alternatively, they may be individuals who have attended an event or place linked to transmission, who are not routinely required to self-isolate. The COVID-19 Helpdesk will therefore make clear whether or not you are required to self-isolate while awaiting your test result. 

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive, as well as receiving your test result from us, you will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace. You will be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days, as described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni and UK government websites. Your College will be informed of your test result, and provide all the support that you need.

What is the chance of a false positive?

Based on our experience from the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme to date, combined with information from Excalibur, we estimate that the chance of a false positive PCR test during Easter term will be <1/1,000. At times of high prevalence of COVID-19, only a small proportion of positive tests are therefore likely to be false positives. At times of low prevalence, a greater proportion of tests may be false positives.

What if I test negative?

If you are self-isolating for 10 days because you have been identified as a household or close contact of somebody with confirmed COVID-19, you MUST continue to do so, even if your test is negative.

Otherwise, students with negative test results should continue to follow all of the infection prevention and control measures described on the Stay Safe Cambridge Uni website. Please remember that, because of the latent period of viral infection, a single test is only expected to pick up roughly half of all asymptomatic students with SARS-CoV-2 infection. While a negative test reduces the risk of carrying the virus, it therefore does not eliminate that risk altogether.

Should I get tested if I have already had confirmed COVID-19?

If a student has had a positive COVID-19 test in the last 90 days, they should not be tested again, unless they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. This is because we now know that very few people get infected more than once over this time period. Furthermore, a small number of individuals with COVID-19 may continue to shed viral RNA (detected by the PCR test) for several weeks after their illness, and may still have a positive test, even when they are no longer infectious to others.

 

Symptomatic testing

We will be continuing to offer testing at the University or Addenbrooke’s Hospital pods for any student or staff member with symptoms of possible COVID-19 over the summer vacation, whether or not they have participatied in the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme.

Frequently asked questions

What sort of tests are used?

As with the Asymptomatic COVID-19 Screening Programme, symptomatic testing is based on ‘gold standard’ laboratory PCR tests. In Easter term, samples will be processed at the Public Health England (PHE) laboratory at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

 

Private tests and tests for international travel

Please see the information on our Stay Safe webpage.