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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff - 24 February 2021

Dear Colleagues

Key points

  • The Prime Minister has announced the plan to gradually lift lockdown restrictions in England. This email details how this will affect us
  • Government has confirmed that from 8 March students on programmes that require specialist facilities can recommence face-to-face teaching. Further details are below
  • Government will make a decision in April as to when all remaining students may be able to return
  • To enable the safe return to campuses it is essential that we continue to observe the COVID-19 restrictions and hygiene measures
  • Twice-weekly testing is expected for all those taking part in in-person activities or using any facilities on our campuses
  • There are no immediate changes to the current arrangements for research
  • We await further Government guidance on the opening of sports facilities but we hope some will be able to open in April
  • Case numbers on our campuses remain low
  • We are reviewing the results of the recent wellbeing survey and have agreed some immediate measures
  • Colleagues will shortly be able to see the today’s message for students on our COVID-19 Communications website

Full message

On Monday the Prime Minister announced details of the plan to gradually lift the lockdown in England, with the current restrictions to be eased in phases with specific conditions that must be met before each further phase of easing can begin.

This signals that the end of the current lockdown period is in sight, and that if we are able to maintain our vigilance against the spread of COVID-19, we may be able to look forward to further restrictions being lifted in the Spring and Summer. The onus remains on all of us to continue strictly to follow the guidelines and to play our part in keeping each other safe.

Lifting the current restrictions

As promised in my quick update on Monday, here is a fuller explanation of what this week’s announcement means for us.

Teaching

The Government has confirmed that for now, only students on programmes that require specialist facilities will be able to recommence face-to-face teaching from 8 March. For the University of Exeter, this will mean that undergraduate and postgraduate taught students on the programmes listed below should check their timetables for further information about what in-person activity may recommence after 8 March:

  • Archaeology
  • Biosciences
  • Drama
  • Education (placements will continue as normal)
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • Maths and Computer Science
  • All Exeter Medical School programmes
  • Mining Engineering
  • Natural Sciences
  • Physics and Astronomy
  • Renewable Energy
  • Sport and Health Sciences

We will work with Directors of Education in these subject areas and Public Health officials to determine what activity will restart on campus, as part of a blended education delivery. Timetables will be updated by the end of next week to reflect these changes. For activity that will be offered in-person from 8 March, the event description will change to ‘This activity will be on campus from 8 March to the end of term’.  The location of the activity will be visible to students and staff on the Friday evening in the week before the activity is due to take place.

Please look out for further communications and updated FAQs with more detail on the resumption of in-person teaching.

Students who are returning for in-person teaching, or colleagues returning to working on campus, must get a test as soon as possible after arriving back, and again 3 days later. We then expect you to take a test twice every week. Details of how to access tests are below.

When will other students be able to return?

A decision on when all remaining students may be able to return to universities will be made by the UK Government as part of the next phase of lockdown easing. Yesterday the Prime Minister suggested that this decision would be made “by the end of the Easter holidays”; however, we are hopeful that we may have clarity on the next steps by the week beginning 5 April.

Please remember that those students who require additional support, including those with mental health issues, may return to university sooner in order to access study spaces and support.

The Government has made it clear that progressing to subsequent phases of lockdown easing, including allowing all university students to return, is dependent on meeting specific conditions, including:

  • the continued success of the coronavirus vaccination programme
  • further evidence that vaccines are reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisations
  • infection rates which do not risk a surge in hospital admissions
  • new variants of the virus not changing the risks associated with lifting restrictions

It is therefore imperative that we continue to observe the existing COVID-19 restrictions, engage fully with testing programmes and maintain vigilance in COVID-19 hygiene measures, most notably observing social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing hands thoroughly and regularly.

You can find all the information you need on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 on our dedicated web pages.

Research

There are no immediate changes to the current arrangements for research.  Staff and PGR students will be able to continue approved research activity on-site (including the use of desk/study spaces where home-working is not possible) and in the field.

We will be investigating the possibility of restarting certain types of fieldwork and research with human participants when we progress to later phases of the roadmap. Current existing processes for amending research activity and approval processes will remain in place.

Please remember that PGR students working on campus should get tested twice a week; and log in to SafeZone when on campus.

Sports facilities

The Prime Minister announced that some outdoor sports facilities may be able to open from 29 March. We await further guidance from the national governing bodies as to what may be possible and we will update you in the next few weeks.

We will aim to open the outdoor swimming pool on Streatham Campus from 3 April and, if the second phase of lockdown easing is permitted, we will aim to open University gyms from 12 April.

COVID-19 Case numbers

The overall rate of positive results on our campuses remains low however this week we have been managing a small cluster of cases in one particular hall of residence. Thank you to the students in this affected area for acting responsively.

The daily numbers of confirmed positive cases for students and staff can be found on our COVID-19 statistics web page. Data is available up to 21 February when the 7 day rolling daily average of positive cases was 3.6.

Book your free twice weekly tests

We expect everyone who is taking part in in-person activities or using facilities on our campuses to book free twice weekly tests. If you are coming onto the campus irregularly, please get a test each time you come.

Visit the staff COVID-19 testing webpages for further information and booking forms.

Our community’s continued engagement with regular testing will be an important factor in any Government decision to open campuses further.

Play your part: Get regular tests and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19 THE TEST YOU NEED IS DIFFERENT  

Remember, if you develop COVID-19 symptoms, such as a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of taste/smell, you must self-isolate and request a HALO PCR test through our Rapid Response Hub.

Supporting the NHS mass vaccination programme

The National Health Service (NHS) is being supported by hundreds of volunteer marshals and stewards in the important work of vaccinating local people at NHS vaccination centres. There are still opportunities to volunteer and this can be flexible to fit around individual availability. If you are interested in volunteering, see our website for more information about how to volunteer and how the University is supporting this important part of the national and local response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

If you do volunteer, or if you have already done so, please make sure you inform your line manager so we can assess the support we are giving across the University.

Your wellbeing

As you will have seen from the Vice-Chancellor’s message yesterday, we are reviewing the results of the recent ‘Colleague Health and Wellbeing Survey 2020’. These have given us a really important insight into how colleagues have been feeling throughout the period of the pandemic, and it is clear that we have vital work to do to address the issues and concerns. This work began yesterday with the meeting of the new University Wellbeing and Mental Health Board, where the results and recommendations were discussed. We are committed to doing the long-term work necessary to ensure that staff and student wellbeing remains a key priority for everyone in our community.

In the short term, you will hopefully have seen the announcement from the Vice-Chancellor yesterday that we have agreed some immediate measures, including two additional rest days on Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 of April. For those who are unable to take those days away from work, we will ensure you can take the days at another time.  We have also agreed a change to our meetings arrangements which will shorten hour-long meetings to 45 or 50 minutes to ensure that colleagues can get breaks between meetings.

We also hope that we will shortly be able to confirm the reinstatement of suspended salary increments, backdated to January 2021, and the reintroduction of the ‘Above and Beyond’ recognition scheme, with a limited budget, for 2020/21.

I hope that these small steps are helpful and I hope you will all join us in addressing the longer term challenge of ensuring the health and wellbeing of all those who work and study at the University of Exeter.

Please also remember that if you need wellbeing help or support at any time, you can reach out via our Wellbeing pages.

Best wishes

Mike

 

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary