Wednesday 7 July 2021

All staff and PGR email

Our journey out of lockdown

Dear colleagues and postgraduate researchers,

No doubt many of you are still absorbing the various Government announcements this week - some I'm sure with a sense of relief, others with continuing concerns.

But it is clear that these announcements mark a new chapter in how we deal with the pandemic.

The Prime Minister has set out a move away from (most) legal restrictions at Step 4 of the roadmap - which we can now confidently expect on 19 July - and towards an approach which encourages people to make informed decisions under their own responsibility.

Key Government decisions for 19 July are already clear, such as the end of 1m-plus social distancing, legal limits on numbers meeting indoors and outdoors, the 'work from home if you can' directive, and requirements to wear face coverings in many settings.

In addition, the Prime Minister reiterated a commitment that all adults will have the opportunity to be "double-jabbed" by mid-September. There will also be an autumn programme of booster jabs for priority age groups and the more vulnerable.

We have also heard that - from 16 August - both double-jabbed people and under-18s in England will not have to self-isolate if individuals come into contact with someone who tests positive (though they will be urged to take a 'gold-standard' PCR test).

Making informed decisions

We need to work through what all this means for us, as well as the further Department for Education guidance we received yesterday evening.

What we do know is this: our work in labs and other research facilities can in principle resume fully from 19 July, and the guidance makes clear that "there will no longer be restrictions on the approach to teaching and learning in Higher Education providers as a result of Covid-19". Alongside this, universities should continue to do risk assessments, including measures to ensure people can use facilities safely, provision for testing, contact tracing, and working locally with local authority public health teams.

With this latest guidance, we can be more confident in progressing our plans for a 'near-normal' scenario. Our Contingency Groups - for on-campus operations, research, teaching and student life - will now examine this guidance and any new announcements over the coming days, and will share updates.

Our Health, Safety and Welfare Committee, including sub-groups involving our campus unions, will also be reviewing health and safety guidance as we prepare for 'near-normality'.

In responding to all this we will still need to work together as a community to look out for one another and manage risks.

It is clear that some of the simple measures we have got used to in reducing risk should continue, like washing hands, taking advantage of outdoor space, covering mouths when coughing, and staying at home if feeling unwell, much like we do to reduce the risk of other infections, including flu. And I note that Chris Whitty, the UK Chief Medical Officer, said he would routinely wear a face covering after 19 July, including as a courtesy to anyone who felt uncomfortable in close physical proximity. We will need to work out our position on things like this, recognising that people will have different responses to the end of restrictions, and we will need to be considerate of one another.

Looking ahead

That sense of consideration is really important. We know that some colleagues are desperate to get back to normal social interaction at work, while others are really anxious. We need to support all parts of our community as we move beyond July 19.

Our response to the pandemic from the start has been built on a strong collaborative approach and this will not change. This includes continuing to work closely with our health and safety colleagues, trade unions and student unions, as well as collaborating with the City Council and our local HE and FE partners, so we can bring as much consistency as possible to responses across York.

We can be confident that we have good experience of working together and the know-how to meet upcoming challenges. We know we can put on comprehensive testing if required. Likewise vaccination: through our local partnerships we have given first jabs to close to 2,000 students over the last weeks, and we are already planning on-campus vaccination clinics for new and returning students in the autumn.

We want to take advantage of the relative quiet of campus over the next couple of months to enable a safe return to campus, to help us all adapt to the ending of restrictions and the need to be considerate of each other's concerns.

Finally, thank you, once again, for all the work you have done up to now to support one another and keep people safe, and to adapt and evolve to the twists and turns of the pandemic.

Best wishes,