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COVID-19: announcement of increased government restrictions

Coronavirus update

Update on COVID-19 from Dominik Zaum, Deputy Chair of the COVID-19 Major Incident Team

 

Dear colleagues, 

The significant restrictions announced last night by the Prime Minister reinforce the seriousness of the current COVID-19 outbreak. It is increasingly clear that this situation will not be resolved quickly, with the new restrictions in place for at least three weeks. Many of us have already started to work from home over the last few days. Still, the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister, not least the instruction to travel to work only where work absolutely cannot be done from home, will have significant effects on our activities. 

Prioritising essential services 

For the health and wellbeing of ourselves, colleagues and students, and the wider community, it is critical to do all we can to heed these new requirements. At our Major Incident Team meeting this morning, we took the decision to further revise our on-site arrangements so that colleagues need only travel to campus for the most essential purposes, namely: 

  • the welfare of students and staff who must remain on our campuses and of our animals 
  • the critical maintenance of our buildings and estates or the infrastructure required to support remote working 
  • critical research activities outlined in the letter from the Science Minister of 23 March 2020, including national efforts relating to COVID-19; and support for critical services and infrastructure like the NHS, if they can be carried out and supported safely.  

The chair of the Major Incident Team will agree with Heads of Schools and Functions which colleagues will be authorised as essential for these purposes. Line managers will then communicate directly with these colleagues. Those who need to be on site should contact the Security team when arriving and leaving by emailing securitycontrol@reading.ac.uk (for staff with no email access, your line manager should email Security). 

I fully understand that working remotely brings challenges, both technical ones like equipment and broadband connection, and those around household arrangements and caring responsibilities. While I appreciate these frustrations, and face them myself, they are not sufficient reasons to allow on-site access for those not involved in the critical activities outlined above. We can all support the health and welfare of our staff and students who do need to be on campus by limiting the pressures for on-site resources and making it much easier for them to maintain appropriate social distance. 

Restrictions to building security 

For the last few days, buildings have remained accessible for those with card access. The number of colleagues and contractors available to maintain on-site facilities is now very reduced. The Director of Estates Janis Pich will work with Heads of Schools and Functions to identify buildings that are not required for essential purposes. These can then be fully secured and non-emergency access removed. 

Where buildings are still needed, access will be limited to colleagues required for essential activities only. Again, this is critical for the safety of all who must remain on site as it allows us to focus our resources on their safety and wellbeing. Given the new government restrictions, there will be no building access for non-essential purposes until the restrictions are lifted or relaxed. 

Easter closure 

With the huge challenges of recent weeks, it would be easy to lose sight of the normal academic calendar. With Easter approaching, I can confirm that term will finish as expected this Friday, 27 March, and that we will be observing the Easter closure period, from Thursday 9 April to Monday 13 April inclusive. 

We will continue to maintain critical services and facilities, including security and takeaway catering at Park Eat, for students who need to remain in their accommodation outside of term time. However, other normal closures practices will apply. 

It will be important for all of us to take the opportunity to rest and relax as best as we are able over Easter. If you are facing particular challenges or worries, and you would like to speak to someone, our Employee Assistance Programme provided by Confidential Care remains available by email and online access 24 hours a day. 

The word ‘unprecedented' has been well-used in recent days, but it is genuinely difficult to think of any other term that describes the circumstances we are facing. I can only reiterate what I have said before - that I sincerely hope you and your families remain safe and well, and I know that we all join together to provide each other with support and connection in the days ahead. The Vice-Chancellor shared a message earlier today thanking staff for their commitment, and I would like to add my thanks to all of you for your efforts, responsiveness to short deadlines and requests, and your collegiality.    

With best wishes, 

Dominik 

Dominik Zaum

Deputy Chair, COVID-19 Major Incident Team

 

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