The UK Government is bringing in further measures outlined in their Covid-19 plans for Autumn and Winter, their ‘Plan B’. This includes increased requirements for wearing face coverings, the introduction of Covid passes in certain situations and guidance for some staff to work from home if possible.
On 9 December 2021, we received new guidance for Higher Education Institutions and were able to review this carefully. These are the main implications for our University community:
Education: the new Higher Education guidance is clear that the UK Government is “prioritising keeping education settings open under Plan B. We therefore expect education settings to remain open for face-to-face teaching as planned”. Therefore, our timetabled in-person teaching, including laboratories and practicals, should continue as planned. Unless the situation changes, our expectation is that we will approach Semester Two using the same model for teaching as Semester One.
Research: the guidance specifies that researchers can continue in-person activity. Therefore, staff and students doing research can continue using specialist equipment and accessing laboratories in the usual way. Heads of Department or their delegates should check their latest risk assessments for specific activity in laboratories to ensure they are up to date. Face coverings should be worn if the risk assessment requires it. In most cases, existing mitigations should be sufficient. If researchers and doctoral students can work from home as per the ‘working arrangements’ section below, then they should do so.
Working arrangements: many staff in Higher Education Institutions have been classified as workers who can attend in-person by the Government, including (but not limited to) teaching staff, researchers, technical staff, student support services, Library staff and campus facility staff. Therefore, if colleagues need to work on campus to deliver their work or service, to access essential equipment or computers, or for wellbeing and mental health reasons, they should do so. Otherwise, Government guidance is that if you can carry out your work fully from home, you should do so from Monday 13 December.
Face coverings and health and safety: in line with the guidance, face coverings will now be required in study spaces including the Library from Monday 13 December, in addition to teaching spaces and all other indoor spaces when moving around, unless an exemption applies. Please follow all other health and safety measures as outlined in my message about Omicron last week, which contains information about vaccinations, testing and risk assessments.
Meetings: although we recognise that in some cases in-person meetings are required, most committees and formal meetings should now be held online/via Teams unless there is reason not to do so.
Events: University-organised events, and those held in our buildings or on campus, should be informed by a risk assessment. Certain large events and specified venues now require the use of a Covid pass; please check the requirements online if you are unsure. Our thanks to colleagues in The SU for ensuring student events are organised in line with this guidance.