Students could be told to isolate for two weeks before the Christmas break – even if they don’t have any coronavirus symptoms, it is reported today.
The eye-catching idea would supposedly allow thousands of teenagers to safely leave university halls and fan out across the country when term ends.
But there would be major questions over how it could be policed or enforced.
It has been floated as one possibility as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson prepares to end his silence and address the fiasco in the Commons today.
More than 500 cases have been confirmed at at least 32 universities, with up to 4,000 students ordered to quarantine for 14 days.
Students have reported being confined in their halls, with security guards on the door, no available food deliveries and orders to wash clothes in the bath.
Many are trapped indoors with a group of people they only met a week or two ago.
And they have voiced anger at universities for taking their rent money despite moving courses online due to the pandemic.
Ministers have insisted students will be able to return home for the Christmas holidays – but haven’t yet spelt out how.
The Times reports one solution could be for them to isolate before heading home at the end of term, even if they do not have any coronavirus symptoms.
That would ensure any incubating virus would either run its course or present itself before they went home to see their families.
Skills Minister Gillian Keegan today refused to rule out the idea, saying Mr Williamson would be addressing the issue at 12.30pm in the Commons.
She told Times Radio: “Right now every single one of us if we have coronavirus, and we have a positive test, we have to self isolate for two weeks.
“And also if you’ve been in contact, your app will ping or someone will phone you up and tell you if you’ve been in contact, you also have to self-isolate for two weeks.
“So that’s exactly the same for everybody across the country.
“And of course we expect students to go home for Christmas and of course we’ll make sure that is facilitated in a sensible way.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live she added: “He’s going to be talking about students and particularly about Christmas.
“We would expect students to be able to go home for Christmas – of course that is something we will absolutely be working towards, and Gavin will lay out more detail of that later on in the Commons.”
It comes after Labour called for Mr Williamson to end his “invisible man act” and act to get better testing in place so youngsters so they can begin enjoying university life.
He is braced for another mauling from MPs when he delivers a Commons statement on the latest shambles.
Freshers at Manchester Metropolitan University blasted their experience.
Around 1,500 students are being asked to not leave their flats and self-isolate following an outbreak.
Isabella Hudson, a first year fashion promotion student, said: “You feel like you’re wasting your money.
“You can do a remote course, the whole thing for like £2,000.
“At the moment I feel like I’m throwing my money down the drain for no reason.”
At the moment large parts of England allow gatherings of up to six people indoors – a rule that isn’t expected to be eased before Christmas.
But vast local lockdown areas, including Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle, ban home visits between different households entirely.
It is not yet clear if that restriction will be lifted in time for the winter holidays.