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Coronavirus update: message from Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Update on coronavirus

Dear colleagues,

The government's announcement yesterday regarding coronavirus has emphasised the need for decisions based on the long-term nature of this outbreak. The Prime Minister made clear that the policy to delay the peak of the outbreak for as long as possible is based on the best available scientific advice and will ensure that more extensive measures are timed to have the most impact.

The main change in government advice relevant to our community is that:

  • anyone with a new persistent cough or high temperature should self-isolate for seven days, regardless of travel or exposure to suspected COVID-19 cases
  • anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case should self-isolate for 14 days regardless of symptoms.

This is in addition to Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice, which is being regularly updated and now includes advice against non-essential travel to Madrid and other areas of Spain. We are updating the online FAQs to reflect this new information.

Although likely to be a mild infection for many people, for those with underlying health conditions it could potentially be serious. For the protection of our whole community, on campus and beyond, it is our expectation that all our colleagues and students will abide by this updated guidance. The government has also issued updated practical advice for managing self-isolation. Our own guidance on self-isolation and home-working set out in the Staff Portal FAQs continues to apply. Please make your line manager aware as soon as possible if you need to self-isolate.

As this will likely increase the number of colleagues who are self-isolating in the coming days, if you are involved in teaching, please familiarise yourself with ways of delivering teaching online. There is more advice on this below. It will also impact the number of students who are self-isolating. While all classroom teaching will go ahead as scheduled, from Monday 16 March until the end of the current term, all teaching materials should also be provided online via Blackboard to support students to continue their learning in these circumstances and minimise disruption to upcoming assessment. Wherever practical, all assessment should be accepted online. Please also consider alternative assessment methods for those who need to self-isolate.

The University response will continue to be guided by the government position. Some private and public institutions have begun to take decisions that go beyond this. The Major Incident Team has confirmed this morning that we will continue to operate our core business as normal, including in-person teaching and activities, and will keep this position under review. Some events that are not critical to core activity or that represent an elevated risk may be cancelled. There is more information on this below.

I recognise that there will be those who disagree with this approach and who feel more should be done now. I can assure you that our decision-making has focused on the wellbeing of our community and taken account of a wide range of perspectives. This outbreak will continue beyond the two weeks left of the current term. If we make sweeping changes pre-emptively, out of proportion to government advice on the current risk in the UK, we may need to sustain these for several months. Such immense disruption to critical activity like exams and graduation, and the teaching required to achieve these, cannot be undertaken lightly given the potentially profound implications, particularly for our students. I sincerely ask that we work together in the best interests of our whole community in the weeks and months ahead.

With this in mind, there are some sensible steps that we can take now. Please take a moment to carefully read the detailed information below about:

  • cancelling non-critical or high risk events
  • preparation for home working
  • managing caring responsibilities.

We should all continue with the recommended hygiene precautions: regular handwashing with soap and water, avoiding touching your face, and coughing and sneezing into a tissue and disposing of it as soon as possible. Please show consideration for our cleaning colleagues, who are facing an increased burden at the moment. For obvious health reasons, they will not dispose of tissues that have not been disposed of responsibly in a bin.

I completely understand that, as the situation escalates and the public concern increases, you may be feeling anxious. If you feel you need support, then please check the Wellbeing pages for the assistance that is available to you. If you are concerned about a health condition that may make you more vulnerable, please speak to your line manager and discuss working arrangements that may be needed to assist you. Managers can contact HR Business Partners and Advisers if you need advice.

It is more important than ever that we support each other as a community and take time to check on each other's wellbeing.

Kind regards,

Professor Parveen Yaqoob


Cancelling non-critical or high-risk events 

The Major Incident Team has agreed to review and where it feels appropriate, cancel events until the end of April that are not critical to our core business of teaching and research or that represent an elevated risk. There are two reasons for this: 

 

  • The resources required to respond to the current outbreak, and to prepare contingency arrangements as it escalates, place a considerable burden on many colleagues in Schools and Functions. Cancelling events that are not critical allows us to focus our efforts on maintaining our core activities for longer. 
  • Some events may pose a greater risk to individuals than day-to-day business, for example those involving close interaction. Cancelling these and making alternative arrangements is proportionate to that risk.  

 

A major incident sub-group - led by Fiona Blair, Director of Marketing, Communications & Engagement, and James Ackroyd, Director of Global Recruitment and Admissions - is undertaking the review of upcoming University and RUSU events and will work with event organisers and UEB members where appropriate to implement this decision. In addition, the group will prepare guidance for organisers of smaller gatherings and business critical events on preventative measures to help minimise risk.

 

We will keep this situation under ongoing review to look beyond the end of April if required.

Preparation for home working

We are continuing to work as normal on all our campuses for now. Given the fast-moving nature of the situation, however, we should anticipate that the government may recommend increased home working in the coming days or weeks.

In the last 18 months, our colleagues in Digital Technology Services (DTS) have been working hard to improve the range of tools to support remote and flexible working. With thanks to colleagues in DTS, this work has been accelerated in recent weeks so that we are prepared to manage the potential impact of coronavirus. To ensure you are personally prepared, please read the online guidance on what you will need to work remotely.

In particular, there are certain steps you can take now to ensure you are prepared:

  • Consider what IT equipment you have access to at home, or would need to take home, that would allow you to work.
  • Multi-factor authentication has been introduced to improve the security of our systems. If you have not done so already, please download the Microsoft Authenticator App on your smartphone. Instructions on how to set up the app are available on the Remote Services Access Guide.
  • With Microsoft OneDrive, you have access to significant secure online storage that you can access from anywhere. You are encouraged to transfer files currently on your personal (N:) drive to OneDrive, which you can access without using the VPN. Guidance on doing this is available in the online guidance.
  • With Microsoft Teams, you have the ability to join meetings, collaborate, access files, chat and call remotely so take time to ensure you are familiar with this system if you are not already.
  • Test essential systems that you need when working remotely, including the VPN.
  • Some of your day-to-day work may not be easily done away from the office. Think ahead, individually and as teams and consider if there is work that you could still undertake at home, such as reading or other learning and development.
  • Ensure your contact information is up-to-date and colleagues know the best way to contact you when you are working away from the University.
  • Care needs to be taken to keep material safe when working remotely, especially if you handle personal, confidential or valuable data. This is particularly important if you are using devices shared with others in your household. Please take time to refresh your knowledge of our data protection and information security requirements.
  • For colleagues involved in teaching, a new section has been created on the Blackboard ‘Help for Staff' site that explains how you can deliver teaching remotely. Please take time to read this. Guidance on learning capture will be available next week and colleagues in CQSD will contact all Blackboard users about advice sessions to support colleagues with this.

We are aware that there have been issues in the past with access to the VPN required to use some services remotely. Work is being finalised to significantly extend the capacity of this system and instructions on how to use the extended VPN solution will soon be published. There are many systems that do not require the VPN, so please read the information in the online guidance.

We recognise that not all roles can be undertaken from home, or that personal circumstances may not allow it. Even if a large proportion  of on-campus activities were to scale down, there would still be critical activity that would need to be carried out on-site. As such, we understand that working in these circumstances may not reflect typical day-to-day activity, and where colleagues have agreed a position with their line manager, they will continue to be paid as normal.

Managing caring responsibilities

The government has confirmed that it will not be closing schools at this time. The Department for Education has previously advised schools that they should remain open unless specifically instructed to close by Public Health England.

However, some schools will in time need to close, even if temporarily for cleaning, and this may present colleagues with childcare or other caring issues. There will also be implications for those who need to care for children or others who are ill or self-isolating or where normal childcare arrangements are disrupted. If you find yourself in this situation, please discuss this with your line manager as soon as possible.

You should consider what home working may be possible given your role and your circumstances. If this is not feasible, then please agree alternative arrangements with your line manager. HR colleagues can also provide guidance.

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