As the Government’s roadmap progresses, I know many of you are looking forward to more definitive guidance about how and when we can rejoin colleagues who are currently onsite, open up more activities on campus safely, and see our campus return to the lively and vibrant environment we all recall.
Below I outline our plans about on-campus activity from May and June onwards, as well as initial thinking on the next academic year.
It now seems clear that Step 3 on the Government roadmap from 17 May will proceed as the Government envisages. We are also beginning to hear initial thoughts from Government sources on Step 4, which is set to start 21 June, when, if all goes well, the Government hopes to remove all legal limitations on social contact.
I’m sure our fingers are collectively crossed that the pandemic remains under control in the UK and that we can look forward to something close to normality over the summer and beyond.
Current situation (up to 17 May)
Government guidance advises for now that we should continue to work from home if we can. I know that for some of you home working is proving more and more difficult, either because it is difficult for you to work effectively, or because of the requirements of your role, or because your personal wellbeing is not well-served by working from home.
Please speak to your line manager if you would like to review your arrangements. We have updated our own guidance for the typical types of working scenarios and circumstances where staff can be on campus from Step 3 (17 May) onwards. For PGRs, we have several hundred socially-distanced single study spaces available across the Library buildings - and more across campus generally - and you can book a study space up to three days in advance. For labs and research facilities, we will continue to operate under the current working practices.
Step 3 (from 17 May)
From Step 3 of the Government’s roadmap, more staff will return to campus to support the new activity that is allowed as restrictions ease. For example, indoor hospitality is set to begin again, indoor group sports and exercise classes will restart, and we anticipate that more in-person community building activities will take place on campus, for example to support students to form better connections with peers from their departments or develop their skills.
If you plan to be on campus to support activity restarting under Step 3 or for your own wellbeing, we will work with Covid-secure leads to manage this safely with the space we have available - this may not at this stage be your normal work location. Find out more about how you can book different types of spaces here.
Step 4 (no earlier than 21 June) and into the Summer
Before Step 4 begins, the Government will complete a review of social distancing and other measures. This will help inform and update what - if any - face coverings, social distancing or other health and safety measures we may need from that point.
Our term ends on 25 June and we will naturally move into a quieter period on campus over the summer. This will allow us time to get used to what - we hope - will be a more normal working environment and to think through our working patterns so we are ready for the next academic year.
I know that while some are desperate to return to work on campus, others are nervous or even fearful. We will do all we can to give sympathetic support so those colleagues can resume work on campus with confidence.
While many uncertainties remain, it is clear the vaccination programme is going well, giving protection against both infection and transmission, and helping to drive down pressures on the NHS. All adults - including those 18 and over - will have been offered a first vaccination by the end of July, and plans are under development to give an autumn booster to the more vulnerable groups. This gives us real optimism that we are leaving the worst of the crisis behind in the UK.
This is sadly not the case in many parts of the world, and the current situation in some countries, India in particular, is distressing. I’m sure we all hope that all that is possible is done to distribute vaccines quickly and at scale everywhere.
Government guidance for the next academic year will not be clear for some time. In the interim we are progressing our contingency planning. While some voices in Government have been bullish about a return to normal from 21 June, others, including the Department for Education, have been more cautious. Reflecting that caution, we have begun to plan one Autumn Term scenario involving 1m social distancing. Following discussion at the University Executive Board this week, we are now also developing a parallel plan for a near-normal scenario without a need for social distancing. In all scenarios, we will support Covid testing costs and red-list quarantine costs for international students.
Whichever scenario we see will be supported by a new flexible working policy with a hybrid approach involving both on-campus working and working from home. We are continuing to get feedback on how best to do this through our ‘Covid Keeps’ community forum, which everyone can contribute to, and from our return to campus survey. We will have detailed guidance for staff and managers in place, as well as training on the new policy, so we can hit the ground running in September.
For now, I hope you are keeping well - and I hope to be able to see more colleagues on campus soon without the need for a Zoom screen!