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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students on national lockdown - 2 November 2020

Dear Colleagues and students,

Key points

  • A new four week national lockdown begins at midnight tonight
  • The government has issued guidance for universities and the changes which will affect us are detailed below
  • The University will remain open and our COVID-secure teaching, research and support services will continue
  • Students must not leave their term-time address to return home between 5 November and 2 December. Our term finishes on 13 December and we await further government guidance on the plan for students returning home for Christmas
  • You must not meet indoors with those who are not part of your household or support bubble
  • Cases of COVID-19 related to the University continue to fall
  • This is a difficult time for all of us and I urge you to reach out for support when you need it via www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/wellbeing

Full message

As you will know, a new national lockdown period will come into effect at midnight tonight. We have now received guidance from the Department of Education outlining how this will affect universities.

The government has made it clear that they require universities to remain open, and that the provision of education should be a national priority. They have asked us to continue to work with our local Public Health teams to ensure that we can deliver our teaching, research and support activities safely, and to give special regard to the wellbeing and mental health of students.

In many ways, the new lockdown restrictions will not significantly change our operations. We have been working carefully to ensure that out campuses can be COVID-secure, and the new guidelines support the actions we have taken. There are however some new requirements specific to higher education and I have outlined the most important points below. The lockdown will also affect the way we all live our lives for the next four weeks, and we must all be aware of and abide by the new guidelines for our home and social lives. Again, I have highlighted key points below.

I would strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with both the Higher Education: new national restrictions guidance and the more general Guidance on New National Restrictions from 5 November.

Meanwhile, we know from the most recent Devon County Council (DCC) dashboard, which includes data up to 1 November, that there have been 694 cases in the last week for Devon and 248 cases in the last week for Cornwall. Exeter has recorded 161 of the cases in Devon over the last week. By working with our Public Health England (PHE) colleagues we know that around 35% of those cases are attributable to the University. In the last 7 days there have been 9 cases linked to our Cornwall campus. We have seen one new positive case amongst University staff, this involves a colleague who has not been to campus in recent weeks.

Our daily update of new positive cases in the University community can be found on our COVID-19 statistics webpage. This should be viewed alongside the official published data – for reasons explained on our website the data is not directly comparable.

Once again these numbers have reduced since last week, and this is a testament to the care and compassion that you have all shown in following the guidelines to protect those around you.  This is what will bring us through the next few weeks and I want to thank you all once again for playing your part. It remains vital that anyone who experiences COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, contacts the Rapid Response Hub to book a test and follows the guidance on self-isolation.

Throughout the last few months, and especially as we head into this new winter lockdown, wellbeing and mental health support has been and will remain our priority. We know that the new four week lockdown will intensify the anxiety that many in our community are feeling.  Since the announcement on Saturday we have been working on ways to bolster our support for staff and student wellbeing and are working with partners such as the Guild and Students’ Union to develop enhanced approaches to supporting our community. We will continue to signpost these, so please look out for future updates and remember to reach out if you have concerns or need help. You can find all the links you need here: www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/wellbeing

New national restrictions on Higher Education

All current safety measures and practices remain in place. In addition, you should be aware of the following important points.

Staying at home

The government requires that everyone stays at their current home, except for specific purposes. This means that students should not leave their term-time address to return home between 5 November and 2 December. This is critically important to avoid the increased risk of spreading COVID-19 to family, friends, loved ones and local communities.

In line with the rest of the population, university staff and students may only leave home for specific reasons, including:

  • for education
  • for work, for example if you cannot work from home
  • for exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household, or on your own with one person from another household
  • for medical reasons or appointments
  • to escape injury or harm (including mental health crises)
  • to shop for food and essentials
  • to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer

As a result of the new government requirements, we will not be authorising any new requests for remote study for the remainder of Term 1, unless for any of the specified reasons above or if you are an international student who has not yet been able to travel to the UK to commence your studies in person.

A number of students commute to university from their family home. This is permitted, but it is important that those who do so abide by the guidance on safer travel.

Staff who are currently required to come to work on our campuses should continue to do so.

International students

International students may decide to return home although the government currently advises against all but essential international travel. Those deciding to travel must abide by the advice on travelling safely, and must also consider whether they will be required to self-isolate on arrival overseas, or when they return to the UK.

Student and staff safety

The government has recognised and reaffirmed the central importance of face-to-face teaching, including for the mental health and wellbeing of students, and have confirmed that COVID-secure teaching and learning can continue.

We will revisit our risk assessments in the light of this new guidance and will confirm with our local Public Health Team that we can continue to deliver a blended model of online and face-to-face teaching. Our initial assessment is that this will not change over the next four weeks, and following requests from academic colleagues, we are exploring ways to allow slightly larger teaching groups where possible.

Libraries and study spaces will remain open. Staff and students must observe COVID safety guidelines, including maintaining social distancing, wearing a face-covering and adhering to enhanced hygiene measures.

Research

Our COVID-secure research activity can continue as previously. The government has stressed that research involving face-to-face activity with human participants will need to comply with national guidelines and it may therefore be advisable to pause such activity for the duration of this 4-week lockdown where the participants’ involvement is not crucial within this period. Further guidance for researchers will follow.

Socialising

It is vital that we limit physical contact with others as much as possible. From tomorrow, this means that you must not meet indoors with family or friends unless they are part of your household, meaning the people you live with, or in your support bubble.

A support bubble can be formed between a household with only one adult in the home, and one other household of any size. Households in a support bubble can visit each other, stay overnight and visit outdoor public places together. You should not invite anyone from outside your household or support bubble into your accommodation.

You can exercise, or visit outdoor public places with the people in your household, your support bubble, or one person from another household. You cannot meet others from outside your household or support bubble in a private garden.

Sports facilities

Our sports facilities will close to public access from 10pm this evening. From tomorrow until 2 December, access will only be possible for physio appointments and for modules delivered by the Department of Sports and Health Sciences. 

It is unlikely that student club team training sessions will be permitted, however we await confirmation from government and will liaise with sports clubs as soon as we have further information. We know how important sport and exercise is for wellbeing and mental health, and we will do whatever we can to enable it to go ahead in a COVID-secure way.

Catered halls

Those who live in catered halls will continue to have food prepared for them. All other catering outlets on our campuses will either close or move to a takeaway-only operation.

Our web page showing which campus services and outlets are open for students will be updated here: www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/students/services/

Wellbeing

The government guidance emphasises the importance of wellbeing support for university students and staff. We have made this our highest priority, and over the coming days we will once again share details of the support available to you. Let me remind you that you can find link to all our wellbeing services at www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/wellbeing and I encourage you to familiarise yourself with the resources and support on offer.

Other national restrictions

A wide range of other national restrictions come into effect from tomorrow. These are detailed in the Guidance on New National Restrictions from 5 November and, additional to those detailed above, they include:

  • All pubs and restaurants will have to close. Takeaways and deliveries can continue.
  • All non-essential shops will have to close. Bike shops, hardware stores, banks, pharmacies, post offices, garden centres and pet shops can remain open
  • Schools, nurseries and colleges will remain open, along with universities
  • Individuals can meet one person from outside their household in an outside public space. Children under five are not counted
  • Support groups of 15 or fewer people are allowed, including those for new parents or people recovering from addictions
  • Children will be able to move between homes if parents are separated
  • Hotels will only open for people who have to travel for work plus a number of other limited reasons
  • Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies will not be allowed, apart from exceptional circumstances
  • Places of worship will generally close but funerals, with a maximum of 30 people attending, individual prayer, and a few other activities will be allowed
  • Workplaces will be asked to stay open if people cannot work from home - including construction and manufacturing

It is critically important that we all understand and adhere to the guidelines, so we can continue to deliver our teaching, conduct our research and support each other and, more importantly, to play our part in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our loved ones and those around us.

I will update you further in the days to come, including on any specific additional measures we are putting in place.

Best wishes

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary