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FAQ: Ten questions about coronavirus tests and higher education

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Self-test, rapid test, proof of testing, vaccination passport... We hear so many terms these days. So what do all of them mean and what role will these tests play in higher education's reopening in the Netherlands?

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The end of the pandemic may seem a long way away, but it is on the horizon. UU expects things to go back to normal by September. With a bit of luck, some changes might be made by the end of April and students will be allowed to return to campus one day a week. According to the Dutch Minister of Health, Hugo De Jonge, this will be made possible by self-tests.

What are self-tests?
If things go according to plan, you will soon be able to buy a self-test at your local supermarket or drugstore. So, you'll be able to test if you have the coronavirus by yourself, at home. You'll just have to put a swab up your own nose. The results are revealed in fifteen minutes.

How much do they cost?
They will be free for students, as the government will be buying them in bulk for higher education. Minister De Jonge estimates the tests to cost around ten euros each, but over-the-counter tests are now expected to cost about six euros. That means the Dutch government will have to dig into its pockets. 

How reliable are the tests?
Very much so, if you do it properly, although there is always a margin of error. Some tests require you to push the swab quite far up your nose, which some people might struggle to do. You can also get remote guidance for taking the test.

Will my test results be a precondition to be admitted to the campus?
No, because the results will not be registered anywhere. The self-tests are intended for people who do not want to infect others. You can keep a test next to your toothbrush, as Minister De Jonge likes to say.

Fifteen minutes is pretty quick. How does a self-test differ from a rapid test?
A rapid test is an official coronavirus test administered by someone else at a testing location. The results of a rapid test are also available quickly. You can get a document to prove you are healthy. A recent, negative self-test could become a requirement for admission to concerts and events in the future, but it is uncertain whether this might apply to higher education.

What about proof of vaccination?
That is something totally different. Once you have received your coronavirus vaccine, you should not pose a threat to others. This means you will not need to take any self-tests or rapid tests. A vaccine passport should give people more freedom of movement, in the same way that you are only allowed into certain countries once you have had the required vaccinations.

But won’t this lead to division and discrimination?
Some people have reservations against a vaccine passport out of principle, while others have practical objections. After all, some people simply do not want to get vaccinated and others may have medical conditions preventing them from doing so. The Dutch government came up with an idea for an app with a green check mark for those who have been vaccinated and one for people who have recently had negative test results. They hope this will help protect public health without forcing people to get vaccinated. 

Would this allow me to go to campus?
It might, should institutions be given the option to impose these requirements and in the event that they want to.

If not, will education continue to be given remotely? 
Yes, in that case institutions will need to remain cautious until enough people have been vaccinated.

I want life to go back to normal! Is that too much to ask?
Well, everyone wants things to go back to normal, but at whose expense? The National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM in the Dutch acronym) counted 223 deaths from Covid-19 last week. The number of hospitalisations is climbing again and more than 46,000 people tested positive for coronavirus last week. In sum, we'll need a little patience.

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