I do hope this update finds you well, as we enter the last few weeks before the winter break. I am sure many of us will be heartened by this week’s news of the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the medicines regulator, the MHRA, and we will be monitoring developments carefully.
This week’s update is slightly longer than usual, but with significant developments at national and local levels, I felt it important to let you have a fuller picture of current plans.
Local tiers of restriction
Following the House of Commons vote on Tuesday evening, the new local tiers of restriction came into force on Wednesday this week, replacing the national lockdown.
We reviewed the guidance carefully at Gold EMT earlier this week, and you can find further information about how we will be operating under Tier 2 on our Covid webpages. We will be maintaining our rigorous Covid-secure measures which have served us so well. The tier system means we can now start new activities like table service at our hospitality outlets; Ahs colleagues have launched a new app to enable our students on campus to order Christmas meals and pizza for delivery, and we have already been able to open the Sports Training Village in line with the guidance.
Covid-19 testing for students and staff
As you know, we are taking part in the UK Government’s national programme of Covid-19 Lateral Flow Tests. We have a contract with the Department for Health and Social Care to offer these tests between 30 November and 14 December, primarily aimed at helping those students who wish to travel away from Bath for the winter break.
Well over 1,000 tests have now been conducted at our testing sites at The Edge and Dartmouth Avenue, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Stephen Baddeley, his colleagues and all those involved in this endeavour, staff and students. As you can see from our published daily statistics, numbers recently have been very small and frequently zero, and this testing regime has found only a few positive cases amongst our students. The public health benefits of identifying even a handful of people who are asymptomatic but positive for Covid-19 make these efforts worthwhile, as it has been predicted that this can greatly reduce transmission.
I am most grateful that the operational team has now been able to make these tests available to colleagues who may wish to have a test between 10-14 December at The Edge building on campus. I understand we are strongly encouraged to read the frequently asked questions for staff before booking a test online.
Student travel window and winter break activities
We are taking all possible steps to facilitate a ‘staggered’ departure for students in the Government’s travel window, which started yesterday. Most of our taught students have indicated that they will be leaving between 3-9 December, with a minority needing to travel slightly after that date. Of course, we know that some will remain with us in Bath over the winter break and colleagues are now finalising the details of events and activities, including special meals, for these students.
Student return after the winter break
We have now received guidance from the UK Government about the staggered return of students in January and the very start of February. We are reviewing this carefully, including how we might be able to extend lateral flow testing on students’ return, and we will update our community as soon as we have developed a plan in response.
Celebration event for winter graduates
Many thanks to all of you who joined our special virtual celebration event for our winter graduates on Wednesday. My sincere thanks to our Chancellor, HRH The Earl of Wessex, for joining us for the occasion and his most thoughtful message to our graduating students. We very much hope that our graduates appreciated this occasion and we look forward to welcoming them back to Bath for a ceremony in the future.
I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to our two new honorary graduates: James Scott, who was CEO of the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust until earlier this year, and Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, President of techUK who has played such a key role in the Institute of Coding.
Compassion at Christmas
Christmas is an important time for many in our community, but of course it is also going to be a very difficult time of year for some.
We continue to build ever stronger links with our local community here in Bath and the region. I am very pleased that we are working with The SU, the Compassionate Community group and Bath 3SG on this year’s ‘Compassion at Christmas’ project. Volunteering opportunities are open for both staff and students, and you can find out how to get involved online.
Finally, may I congratulate Rana Jawad and her colleagues for the launch this week of a major Bath-led Middle East and North Africa Social Policy Network, supported by a four-year (2020-2024) research and public engagement programme award from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under the GCRF Network Plus scheme. The virtual event with an excellent opening speech by Jonathan Powell brought together leaders in the field from a range of major organisations across the UK and the region. The network, also involving experts in Sri Lanka, Brazil and South Africa will make an important contribution to the field of social protection and security, and given the global importance of the work, particularly in these Covid-19 times, I wish the network every future success.
With warm good wishes,
Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President