Important update following the raising of COVID-19 alert level - 22 September 2020
I am sure you will have been following the recent news on the increase in COVID-19 cases across the UK. The national alert level has now been raised from 3 to 4 and the projections from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer yesterday could not have been clearer. If we do not take action now to suppress the spread of the virus, we will be facing a significant second wave during the winter months when our health services are under the greatest strain.
The Prime Minister has this afternoon confirmed the raised alert level and announced a range of additional measures. He also made it clear that schools, colleges and universities would stay open, because nothing is more important than the education, health and wellbeing of our young people.
He stressed throughout that unless we all do everything we can to reduce the infection rate then, as a nation, we are likely to face a further severe lockdown with everything that entails.
I am writing to you today to reiterate this critical message.
We must all, without fail, redouble our efforts and strictly abide by the COVID guidelines at all times.
If we cannot, then it is clear that our ability to continue to provide face-to-face teaching, to meet in groups of 6, to visit cafes, socialise safely and to go about our daily lives in and around the University is now directly threatened.
We have designed our model of blended learning to allow flexibility, and we have made it clear that a raised alert level may entail changes to our teaching. As you know, we have worked tirelessly to be able to make this change and have invested huge amounts of time and money into ensuring that our digital delivery is rich and of high quality. This enables us to adapt our approach during the year as the alert levels change.
We await further guidance today from the Department for Education. Now that the alert level has been raised, the senior team are meeting to determine the steps now necessary and I will update you on these changes by email later this evening.
Since March we have been in constant dialogue with our partners in Public Health England, the NHS and local authorities, working with them to introduce all necessary measures to protect the health and wellbeing of our community, which has been and will remain our highest priority. I can confirm that we have seen a small number of COVID-19 cases amongst students emerge from our HALO testing programme over the weekend. We have subsequently been in communication with their close contacts and self-isolation arrangements are in place for those students.
I also need to give you a stark warning about the personal consequences you may face if you do not strictly observe the COVID guidelines.
Yesterday we began teaching and I heard many reports of the support and positive engagement from students enthusiastic to begin the academic year. However, in the past week we have also witnessed some completely unacceptable behaviour from a very small minority of our students. These have included disregarding social distancing requirements, refusing to obey reasonable instructions from University staff and abuse towards those who are working exceptionally hard to keep our community safe.
These behaviours endanger the lives of fellow students, staff and the wider community. Each example is a breach of the Safe Community Charter and each will lead to actions under the disciplinary process. This could result in individuals being suspended and ultimately expelled. We have already issued formal cautions and I have instructed colleagues to process disciplinary cases swiftly, for the safety of our entire community.
I want to thank the majority of students who have adapted well to the unusual and unwanted circumstances. None of us would have wanted to be in this situation, but we remain committed to providing the best possible educational experience for you. For this to be possible we must all pull together, to ensure the safety of our friends, loved ones, colleagues, students and neighbours, and for us all to be able to continue to live and work with some degree of freedom. Please ensure you know what this entails, and that you are playing your part.
Registrar and Secretary