Thursday 9 December 2021

Staff and PGR email

Subject: Government Plan B announcement and how we respond

Dear colleagues and postgraduate researchers,

I am sure many of you will have seen the latest UK Government announcements about ‘Plan B’ in response to the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron.

We have put careful preparations in place in anticipation of these changes. So we are well set to follow general Government advice in tightening restrictions.

I know you will have lots of questions. Thanks in advance for your patience as we review and adapt our guidance, but below are some of the core changes which impact our current policies and plans, including:

  • Face coverings policy

  • Working from home guidance

  • Social events

  • Support for testing

  • Vaccine passports

  • Travel updates

Face coverings extended

In line with the new face coverings guidance, we will be updating our face coverings policy, which will require their use in all public indoor spaces on campus (except where it is not practical to keep removing face coverings to eat, drink or exercise). Following consultation with local public health officers, we will also be requiring the use of face coverings in teaching and learning spaces. From Friday 10 December, you must wear a face covering when moving about indoors on campus.

There will be spaces across campus - like offices - where we are not required to wear face coverings. However, the guidance encourages us to wear a face covering in any indoor places where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet. If in doubt, please wear one, and check with colleagues in shared spaces if they would like you to wear a face covering.

Working from home

There is now new general Government guidance to work from home, if you can.

However, the Department for Education has updated its specific guidance for educational settings to make it clear that in-person teaching is exempted from work-from-home guidance, including staff deemed critical to supporting this work, such as lab technicians and specialist technical support. Staff supporting essential campus and student support services are also exempt. We are therefore not re-introducing a blanket work from home policy.

For research, anyone needing access to campus to conduct their research can continue to do so - be it in specialist facilities or other settings such as research spaces, study areas, libraries and archives.

We also continue to encourage staff to work on campus if they need to, for general health and wellbeing reasons, or if they do not have the facilities set up to work from home.

Beyond these exceptions, if your job can be done from home, and doing so will not affect delivery of essential services, teaching or research, then we are asking you to work from home from Monday 13 December.

We have spent much of the pandemic operating on a ‘work from home if you can’ basis and this has created a practical way of enabling flexible working for many. We have a pragmatic framework to assess requirements to be on campus, and we have good working arrangements as we adjust to living with Covid-19.

Our advice is to continue to work with your line managers and supervisors to discuss your commitments, understand what work you can do where, and how this might be done as flexibly as possible.

Social events

We know that seasonal social events are still permitted under the new guidance. However, we remain cautious, and while we learn more about this new variant, we ask that you postpone any on-campus social events between now and Christmas. We appreciate that this may be very disappointing for those who already have plans. For any off-campus events, it is important these are seen as optional and that individuals should feel able to make their own decisions about taking part in any social occasions.

Support for testing

In light of the new variant there is now new guidance about testing and isolation requirements for Omicron cases, no matter what your vaccine status. The Government has said it intends shortly to introduce daily contact tests for contacts of confirmed positive cases, instead of the ten-day self-isolation period.

It continues to be really important to take regular Lateral Flow tests, which are readily available for all, including at our on-campus test centre, and to follow NHS guidance closely if you are identified as a contact or if you test positive.

Vaccine passports

The Government has confirmed that the NHS Covid Pass, or an alternative proof of a negative test result, will be required for entry into settings and venues with large crowds. We will review this in detail, including our arrangements for graduations in January. Our initial assessment is that these requirements will not prevent any planned University events. Teaching, including large lectures, is not subject to passporting arrangements.

Travel restrictions

There are no restrictions on student movement across England or any travel window. The Government has already reintroduced 'red list' restrictions on a number of countries, along with changed rules for testing both pre-departure to the UK and after arrival in the UK. Further changes may follow at short notice.

We continue to update our business travel guidance. We are also communicating with our international students who are not yet in the UK, as well as writing to all students shortly, with advice about testing, travel rules, and preparing for the start of term in January.

Ready to respond

The Government has said it will continue to review the situation closely - as will we - and we know how unpredictable Covid-19 has proved to be. We may need to be ready for further changes over the winter break and into next term.

But we have been able to respond quickly and effectively in the past to changes in guidance, and our Contingency Groups and teams in academic and professional services departments are ready to meet any new challenges head on.

As ever, I will write again with any more changes in guidance and our response. You can find all my emails to staff and students to share updates, and in the meantime, please continue to use the search function on the Covid website pages to find information you need to keep yourself well informed. And above all, stay safe and well.

Best wishes