May I take this opportunity, albeit under the strangest of circumstances, to wish you a Happy New Year. I do hope that you have had a restful break and feel refreshed to meet the challenges of 2021. I would also like to reiterate my sincere gratitude to those of you who worked during the winter break, whether to support students, maintain essential services or on other important priorities. Thank you.
Last night, the Prime Minister addressed the nation again ahead of a third period of national lockdown in England. We are asked to follow the new rules from today, which will become law in the early hours of Wednesday morning. We also heard announcements of stricter measures in other parts of the UK and indeed we know there are travel restrictions in place between the UK and other countries internationally. As ever, this is an evolving picture and we will be monitoring any further Government guidance carefully.
I am acutely aware that this is another really difficult period for members of our community, particularly after nine months of restrictions last year. Let us hope that these new measures will slow the spread of the virus whilst the vaccination programme is rolled out in earnest. Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, I have no doubt that the next few weeks will test us individually and collectively.
UK Government announcement and implications
As you will have heard last night or in this morning’s news, we are now in a new period of national lockdown in England. This morning, Silver and Gold Emergency Management Teams have met to review these rules which have the following implications for us:
- You can only leave home for work purposes “where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home”.
- Universities are still able to operate essential activities, not least to support the students already here in Bath and to conduct research. Therefore, the guidance in my previous e-mail about essential workers needed on campus remains in place.
- Our understanding, based on the guidance we have received from the Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) this morning, based on advice from the Department for Education, is that Higher Education staff will be classified as critical/key workers.
- Frontline operational staff in Ahs, including Security, and Estates, and relevant technical staff, will continue to be needed to ensure our students are supported and our campus and buildings are operational, safe and secure. In terms of catering and hospitality, takeaway and click-and-collect services are still permitted.
- Research activities that cannot reasonably be undertaken at home can take place on campus.
- The lockdown means that most in-person teaching will not resume until at least mid-February. The Government rules stipulate that students who do not study specified courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online. In our case the only specified courses confirmed so far are for the MPharm students in Pharmacy & Pharmacology. We have been told to expect this to last until at least mid-February, though it may be that this is not the case for those courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and/or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled. We are seeking more clarification on what decisions will be made on such courses. We will be working alongside Departments to design the best possible start to Semester 2.
- The Library will remain open to provide access to IT and digital services, for example for students who do not have it at home, in line with Government rules. We will also enable Covid-secure access to Wifi and some study spaces in the Virgil Building and Lewis House so students do not have to travel to campus for IT access if they live in town.
- Student Services will also be continuing their vital work via their helpdesk, Wellbeing Service and mental health services.
- Unfortunately, our indoor and outdoor sports facilities will need to close temporarily. Lockdown rules mean that you can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble.
- During this period of lockdown, other colleagues who can reasonably work from home should do so.
- If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should not attend work and limit the time you spend outside the home.
- As primary and secondary schools are now largely closed, we are encouraging line managers to allow additional flexibility around hours, to support those with caring responsibilities. Whether you are working on campus or remotely, the advice we have received from the Department for Education is that you are classified as a critical/key worker, and as such your children should be able to attend primary and secondary schools, though we will be monitoring how this is implemented over the coming weeks. We will be issuing guidance in the next 24 hours to Heads of Department about how we will be supporting those who are unable to fulfil their work duties because of their caring responsibilities.
All activity on campus and University buildings must be carried out in line with risk assessments and within the stringent Covid-secure measures we have in place. Please make sure you have read the latest advice on wearing face coverings, which must be followed at all times, along with social distancing and good hand hygiene.
Covid cases and testing
I was pleased to have confirmation today that there were no known positive Covid cases amongst staff or students on campus over the winter break. I would like to pay tribute to Ahs colleagues and all those who played a part in putting on Covid-secure activities and meals for households during this time. Of course, with cases on the rise locally and nationally, the need for continued vigilance is more acute than ever.
Yesterday, we restarted our asymptomatic lateral flow testing programme and 197 tests were completed on campus. Fortunately, no positive cases of Covid-19 were found. Our programme of testing lasts until at least 5 February 2021, subject to review by Government, and you can find a Q&A on our webpages as well as the booking form. The new rules allow you to leave home for a medical reason, including to get a Covid-19 test.
As you know, last week we communicated with our students about the Government guidance released on 30 December about a phased return of students to universities. We have seen a small number of students return to Bath over the last 24 hours.
Last night’s announcement means that students should now remain where they are wherever possible, whether that is here in Bath or elsewhere, except in a very few cases including MPharm students and for those PGR students who need to access University facilities to do their work.
During term time, students should not move back and forward between their home here in Bath and other locations, for example if they have a home elsewhere with family members. As stated above, the Government rules also mean that, until at least mid-February, we will need to start most courses online.
We will continue to work with Universities UK and other universities to work through Government rules along with any further guidance. We know there are further implications for colleagues, and we will be working through these details and seeking to communicate with you as soon as possible over the next few days.
Thank you for your continued patience and support as we navigate through these unprecedented times. We will continue to do our utmost to engage with you in the best possible way in the weeks to come.
With warm good wishes,
Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President