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Covid: Students may have to isolate for Christmas at home

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media caption'It wouldn't feel like a proper Christmas here'

University students may be asked to self-isolate as a way to allow them to return home for Christmas, Wales' education minister has said.

Kirsty Williams also announced an extra £10m for student mental health services and hardship funds during the pandemic.

Cases have been confirmed at university halls of residence, with thousands of students self-isolating on campuses.

Students have been asked not to return home for the 17-day Wales-wide lockdown which starts at 18:00 BST on Friday.

Ms Williams said the four UK governments were looking at a range of options to help students return home for Christmas and would be meeting again next week to discuss progress and approaches they are actively considering.

She added students returning for Christmas was a "priority" for them.

Announcing the fund to help students cope with the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Williams said the money would be spent on mental health and support services, as well as student hardship funds.

The cash is intended to allow students' unions and universities to offer advice and support for students and staff, including online services and help through the medium of Welsh.

The funding is also for food services for students self-isolating, with some of the money specifically for learning support for vulnerable students, those with disabilities or caring responsibilities.

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image captionPlaid has called for a plan to allow students to go home for Christmas

Ahead of the briefing, Ms Williams said: "Going away to university can be a difficult time for many students, which has been exacerbated by the current circumstances.

"Following the £27m I announced to support our universities this year, this funding will help universities continue their important role of supporting and developing our students."

President of the National Union of Students in Wales, Becky Ricketts, said the funding "comes at a good time for students who are being asked not to travel home for the firebreak" lockdown which begins in Wales on Friday.

Welsh Conservative education spokeswoman Suzy Davies said: "The latest announcement is welcome news, given it is specific funding to protect students' mental health.

"But worryingly, given there is only days to go until lockdown is implemented, the speed of delivery is now of the essence, as it must reach the most vulnerable in time."

She said ministers should answer calls for a strategy to "protect our students' mental health".

Helen Mary Jones, who speaks for Plaid Cymru on post-16 education, said ongoing support was important but "a crucial concern for students is whether they will be able to return home for the Christmas holidays".

"What we need is a clear plan for this, that includes testing for each student in time for them to get a result before they leave, with a requirement for Welsh domiciled students to self-isolate for two weeks in their homes if they test positive."

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