University of Birmingham statement regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The University are monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and its impact, and doing all we can to make safe and reassure our staff and students. This statement will be regularly updated as the latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and Public Health England (PHE) and other sources becomes available.
For more detailed information we are regularly updating the FAQs for staff and students to include the most up to date advice.
*Statement last updated: Thursday 10 September*
Over the summer we have been regularly briefing staff and students on the many measures we are taking to make the campus safe and in particular the work focused on the start of the academic year. As we move towards the start of the first semester we thought it would be useful to consolidate these measures in one update as a reminder of everything colleagues are doing to make the campus safe for us all.
In developing all of our plans and actions we have adhered to government guidelines and worked closely with the Director of Public Health for Birmingham, Birmingham City Council, Public Health England, and our own academic experts. We have taken a leadership role in convening discussions about safe reopening with other universities regionally and have been active nationally in sharing best practice and ensuring we are responding to the very latest advice and guidance. We have also worked closely with the Guild and with the local community (police, councillors, community representatives) to share our approach and develop our plans. Throughout, we have endeavoured to ensure that we have adopted a safe and pragmatic approach, recognising that we do all we can to support our students’ return to the University.
We understand that colleagues may be anxious about the rising number of cases nationally and regionally. We continue to closely monitoring the infection rates for the City of Birmingham and are in regular contact on this with the Director of Public Health, who continues to be very supportive of the range of measures we have in place to support safe campus re-opening and the arrival of our students. We also recognise that our plans may need to change if government advice changes and will keep the impact and effectiveness of these measures under constant review and continue to communicate any changes to staff and students. This includes reviewing the latest SAGE HE report which was published last Friday and the anticipated guidance from the Department of Education, which we are expecting this week.
As a reminder our approach to protecting staff and students and preventing the spread of Covid-19 includes:
Symptoms and testing
- Ensuring all staff and students are aware of the symptoms of Covid-19 and do not come onto campus if they are showing any
- Encouraging staff and students to get tested and self-isolate as soon as they start to show any symptoms
- Providing access to rapid testing on campus via the new walk-through test facility on South Car Park (open 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week) and our development of a Turnkey Laboratory in MDS as part of the national testing infrastructure. The combination of the two facilities provides a unique resource ensuring rapid symptomatic testing of our staff and students and the ability to provide rapid response testing in discussion with the City Director of Public Health should this be required.
- Taking a leadership role through the work of academic colleagues in MDS, notably Alan McNally, Andrew Beggs and Alex Richter, in the national development of both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing, through supporting the establishment of the Milton Keynes lighthouse laboratory and driving innovation in testing methodologies that will hopefully inform future national testing protocols. Asymptomatic testing in Universities is currently not viable due to the national scale of testing requirements, but our testing innovations are helping to inform possible future approaches
- Developing a Test, Trace, Protect process that complements the NHS and Public Health England process which we will be launching later on this week. This includes a proactive programme of identifying and contacting anyone who might have come into ‘close contact’ with a confirmed case on campus
- Developing outbreak management plans and contingency plans in the event of local lockdowns, through close working with regional public health and emergency planning organisations
Return to campus preparations including
- Providing all staff and students with a free, washable face-covering and mandating the wearing of face coverings in all buildings (including teaching spaces) where 2metre distancing is not possible, while recognising that some people may be exempt
- Ensuring safe social distancing arrangements are in place in all buildings and across campus with clear signage in all locations to help staff, students and visitors
- Developing a range of online resources including videos, animations, advice and guidance for staff and students about returning to campus and the changes in place
- Offering everyone returning to campus an opportunity to raise any concerns through a ‘return to work on campus’ conversation with their line manager and, where the conversation relates to personal health risks which require further advice, the opportunity for a referral to occupational health.
- Working with public transport providers and the sustainable transport team to support staff commuting and developing a car parking plan to ensure there are enough spaces available for staff who need to drive
- Developing a student community commitment as part of a package of measures with the Guild to set out advice and expectations for students around maintaining Covid-safe behaviours both on and off campus. This is very much in line with best practice advice from Government and regional Public Health.
Covid-related building risk assessments
- Ensuring that buildings are not opened until all of the mitigations in the Covid-related building risk assessments have been completed – copies of the risk assessments can be found on the intranet
- Undertaking specific teaching space risk assessments and ensuring that these integrate with existing building Risk Assessments take the flow of people in, out and around a building into account – with related advice and guidance on teaching spaces published next week.
- Providing the staff unions with the opportunity to review all Risk Assessments
Enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures
- Increasing cleaning and carrying out additional deep cleaning where required.
- Ensuring easy access to hand sanitising stations and cleaning materials such as wipes where required as part of a Risk Assessment.
- Promoting good hygiene measures including regular handwashing and using tissues to catch any coughs or sneezes.
Blended model of teaching and working
- Delivering bi-modal teaching with all lectures being delivered on-line and, where possible, practical sessions, labs and performances as well as small group sessions taking place in person.
- Enabling staff to work in a blended way combining some working on campus with working from home and having a rota system for staff where feasible.
- Providing online materials to support staff working on campus and from home.
- Providing weekly online personal academic tutorial sessions for all students.
- Investing in IT infrastructure and software to support distance working and learning including zoom and Microsoft 365 roll out
Student focused measures
- Delivering a staggered arrivals and welcome period which runs throughout September and October and providing an airport pickup service from London and Birmingham
- Providing a free 14 day quarantine package for international students staying in our halls who are required to self-isolate on arrival in the UK
- Developing a rolling ‘Welcome’ programme for new students including virtual events and small group, socially distanced activities
- Working in partnership with the Guild to ensure that we can deliver a positive and Covid-safe student experience particularly through engagement and commitment to a range of measures including a student community commitment.
This is new territory for us all and it is incumbent on everyone to take personal responsibility to protect not only our own health, but the health of our colleagues, friends and students.
Internal Communications Team