Tuesday 14 December 2021

All PGR email

Update on Covid guidance and vacation facilities and support

Dear postgraduate researchers,

The situation with regard to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to evolve in the UK. The government has issued a number of updates to guidance this week and I am writing to explain what these mean for you and the University and to remind you of the support available over the winter break - whether you are staying on or off campus.

Vaccine booster

The Government has made it clear that one of the most important ways to protect yourself and others from the spread of the virus is to ensure you are fully vaccinated, including getting a vaccine booster. Anyone who has had their second jab more than three months ago is now eligible to book online for a booster jab, with the exception of 18-29 year olds, who can book online from Wednesday this week. If you are eligible for a booster, or haven't had your first or second dose yet, you can also visit walk-in vaccination centres if one is available where you live.

If you are eligible, I urge you to get your booster vaccine as soon as you can and certainly before you return to campus in January. We know that the great majority of our student and PGR community is already double vaccinated but the healthcare data from the weekend clearly shows that having three vaccine doses provides up to 75% protection against Omicron, while two doses given more than three months ago provide much less protection.

Changes to Government guidance

Face coverings - 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, including teaching, learning and research spaces. The only exceptions to this are where it is not practical to keep removing face coverings for example to eat, drink or exercise, or where you have a recognised exemption from wearing one. Therefore, you must now wear a face covering, unless exempt, when moving about indoors on campus.

Testing - there is now new guidance about testing and isolation requirements for Omicron cases. The Government has also said that, for fully vaccinated adults, it intends shortly to introduce daily Lateral Flow tests for contacts of confirmed positive cases. If you are identified as a contact please continue to follow NHS advice closely.

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.

If you are travelling over the winter break, please ensure you test before leaving campus and prior to returning, to keep others safe. You can get tested at Vedge Cafe, Wentworth College. You don't need an appointment and can drop in anytime between Monday to Friday, 12 noon to 4pm. Please be aware the test centre will be closed from Saturday 25 December to Monday 3 January.

You can also collect home testing kits from several locations on campus including: Vedge Cafe at Wentworth College, Ron Cooke Hub, University Library, YUSU Reception and College receptions.

Vaccine passports - subject to approval by MPs, from Wednesday 15 December, people in England will need to use the NHS Covid Pass to gain entry to certain venues including nightclubs and large events.

People who are not vaccinated will have to show proof of a recent negative lateral flow test instead.

Travel - there are currently no restrictions on student and PGR movement across England. The Government has reintroduced 'red list' restrictions on a number of countries (though these may change at short notice), along with changed rules for testing both pre-departure to the UK and after arrival in the UK. For PGRs, we have updated our policies on Temporary Remote Research (TRR) if you are unable to travel to the UK. YGRS will be in touch directly with you regarding this and other PGR-specific contingency measures.

Support available over the winter break

If you are staying on campus or close by over the winter break, there are lots of activities planned within the colleges as well as events across campus. For Postgraduates, the GSA has also produced a very helpful winter break booklet.

Over 400 students have now signed up to our Holiday Connect scheme and will be "connected" with one another shortly. If you registered for a Christmas Call from your College, these will take place from the 27 to 31 December. College Life Advisors are also running drop-in sessions online up to and including 24 December.

Support for PGRs is available from our Student Support Services team and Open Door Duty Practitioners who will be available from Monday 20 - Wednesday 22 December on a rota basis. Your GSA sabbatical teams are also available if you need support.

Access to research and other facilities

As I outlined last week, the University has not re-introduced 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.

Staff and PGRs can also 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. For PGRs, face-to-face TAP, progression and vivas can go ahead as planned (if participants agree and social distancing is observed) or you can move online.

Many of our campus facilities will be available over the break - although some may be operating a reduced service. The Library will be open for the majority of the winter break, with a couple of exceptions. Your department or school will have contacted you about access to laboratories and other research facilities over the Christmas period.

Preparing for January

The impact of the Omicron variant and government guidance will continue to evolve over the next few weeks. So far the Department of Education has confirmed that in-person teaching is being prioritised for Universities. This means we are planning a normal start to the new term in January.

But this is still an evolving situation so it is very important that you keep an eye out for any further updates from us by email over the winter break - this will be the main way we communicate updates to you. We will also continue to update our Covid-19 webpages. If you are travelling from overseas, please check the latest travel guidance for your country.

If you fall ill over the winter break and it affects your progression process or viva submission or examination, please access the YGRS webpages and contact your department's Graduate Administrator for updated advice and guidance.

Finally, wherever you might be travelling from over the next few weeks, please remember to follow the latest Government guidance on testing and isolation and test before you travel. We want to ensure that our campus is as safe as possible to continue to provide you with an in person education and research experience. That is only achievable if we all do everything we can to keep ourselves and each other safe.

Best wishes

Charlie

Vice-Chancellor and President