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COVID-19 update: our response to government announcement

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This message from Professor Julian Park & Professor Dominik Zaum, Co-Chairs of the Major Recovery Team, was sent to all colleagues at our University

Dear colleagues,

The government announced on Monday its roadmap for exiting the national lockdown in England.

The Prime Minister outlined the steps that will be taken to gradually ease restrictions at a national level, subject to continued monitoring of COVID-19 cases and the uptake of vaccinations. These steps will have a direct impact on our activities, and we are writing to share more information about our plans in response. This similar email will shortly be sent to all students.

Teaching for the rest of the spring term

From 8 March, universities will be permitted to offer face-to-face teaching sessions for practical or practice-based subjects which require specialist equipment and facilities. All other students should continue to study remotely online and should not return to campus.

Now the government has confirmed we are permitted to do so, from Monday 8 March, we will schedule face-to-face teaching for some placement, practical and studio activities that cannot easily be replicated online, as outlined in our update from 5 February.

We are currently working through the detailed government guidance to finalise which sessions fall into this group. We have previously contacted colleagues and students on programmes likely to be affected by this and, once we have agreed a final list of on-campus sessions this term, we will work with the relevant Schools to send further information to students, including advice if they are unable to attend these sessions. Students should not plan to return to campus until they have been notified of the dates for any on-campus teaching. Timetables will also soon be updated accordingly. 

For all other students, as previously confirmed, all remaining scheduled teaching sessions will continue to be delivered online only for the rest of the spring term.

In January we took the decision to increase distancing in teaching spaces to 2 metres for the rest of the spring term, given the risks from the increased transmissibility of the new variant of the virus, the high case numbers in the local area and across the UK, and the colder weather. This control measure remains in place for teaching for the rest of the spring term. It will be kept under close review, along with our other control measures.

Planning for the summer term

The government will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for timing of the return of remaining students. This review will take account of the latest data and will be a key part of the wider roadmap steps. Students and universities will be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return and we will share information with students and colleagues as soon as we hear from the government.

We have already confirmed that the majority of exams will be online this summer. In line with the government’s plans to ease restrictions over the coming months, we will work with Schools to provide further guidance about the provision of any face-to-face activity in the summer term. We know many Schools will be keen to offer revision sessions, field classes and activities for taught postgraduates in particular. While we recognise the value of these activities, we must also ensure appropriate safety precautions are in place to minimise the risk.

Health & Safety

As outlined by the government, the current lockdown restrictions will remain in place until at least 29 March, but many restrictions will continue after this date. Colleagues must continue to work from home unless you have permission from your line manager to work on campus. We will continue to encourage students to stay at their current address and only return to campus if they have timetabled face-to-face teaching from 8 March.

The existing advice to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus remains in place. Regular hand-washing, maintaining a distance from other people and wearing face coverings have all proved key and effective in reducing transmission, and should be continued.

Colleagues and students on campus are strongly encouraged to take a free lateral flow test twice a week, to give extra reassurance that you are not unknowingly carrying the virus. Students returning to campus for face-to-face teaching will be asked to book a Lateral Flow Test for when they arrive.

Research

Research activities should continue to be conducted remotely where possible, in line with government advice. If you require access to specialist facilities on campus, please seek approval from your Head of School.

Campus facilities

We do not anticipate making changes to the current provision of campus facilities until at least the end of the spring term. We will keep the opening of other facilities under review in line with government advice and the roadmap plan. The current arrangements are:

  • Library and study space: The Library is open for Click & Collect and bookable study space for students who need it. Students can also use non-bookable study space in RUSU’s The Study and our PC Labs in Palmer and Agriculture, all of which are accessible 24/7 by Campus Card.
  • Student support: Our full range of specialist advice and support services are available remotely, including Support Centres and the Henley Helpdesk, the ISLI Administration team and the Graduate School. The Student Services Reception in the Carrington Building remains open for drop-in queries. 
  • Catering: The Library Café, Park Eat and The Dairy are continuing to offer takeaway service. The Marketplace at Park Eat is also open for food and other household essentials.
  • Halls: Our Halls are open for students who need to be here, along with our Halls Welfare Team. Catering is available for residents at Wantage and St Patrick’s.
  • RUSU: The Students' Union has moved all support services online, and clubs and societies are continuing remotely as much as possible. The Seoul Plaza and Mailbox shops are open, as well as the Bagelman for takeaway. Under government guidance, the nursery remains open. 

While there is cause for optimism based on the successful implementation of the vaccination scheme, the Prime Minister has also made it clear that the current restrictions will be eased slowly and carefully. We, too, will keep all of our current arrangements under close review and we will only consider lifting any control measures when it is safe to do so.

As with all other major government COVID-19 announcements, we anticipate that there may be more detailed guidance provided for universities about these latest measures, and we will update our current plans if we need to. The national situation may continue to change, so please keep an eye on your University email account and the Staff Portal for any important updates. We will also keep the Staff Portal COVID-19 FAQs updated with the latest information and advice.

If you have any queries, please speak to your line manager in the first instance. You can also contact our COVID-19 Support Hotline on 0118 378 5445 from 9.15am to 4.30pm this week. From Monday 1 March, the hotline will be running as an email service and you can contact covid-hotline@reading.ac.uk.

Best wishes,

Julian & Dominik

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