Information for staff and students about piloting homeworking, the differences between the University's 'amber' and 'red' response phases, and HR guidance.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to update you on the actions the University is taking as it responds to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, particularly in light of the additional measures announced yesterday by the British government

It is likely that we will soon see greater restrictions in place as the government grapples with the public health crisis. We want to be ready for any further measures. We also want to make sure that we are giving the clearest possible information to all staff and students, acknowledging that this situation is evolving rapidly. I will send a regular, daily message to keep you informed.

These are difficult times. Many of us will be deeply anxious about our health – both physical and mental – and that of our loved ones. My colleagues and I are doing, and will continue to do, everything we can to support members of our Collegiate University community.

This morning, the University’s senior leadership reviewed the measures announced yesterday afternoon by the government.

Our main recommendation today is that, in anticipation of a scenario in which we are compelled to work remotely, colleagues across the University should this week pilot and test any arrangements that would allow them to work from home. We should be testing systems so that we are ready in case working from home becomes compulsory. The University-wide roll-out of Microsoft Teams has been brought forward to help us all operate remotely – further information will be sent to staff imminently.

I once again urge everyone across the University – and beyond – to be mindful of the government’s advice. We are not living in normal times. This is a crisis that requires us to do things differently and to confront new and unexpected challenges. I know that our University can rely on a deep spirit of community to help carry us through.

Levels of response


The University has identified two levels of response: “amber” and “red”.

We are currently in the amber response phase – where large gatherings are discouraged, social distancing is recommended, and anyone with a new persistent cough or fever is asked to self-isolate for 7 days.

During this phase, the University will make all efforts, as far as reasonably possible, to continue its core activities – while making greater allowance for staff absences and calling off large group meetings including lectures, seminars, and public events.

For example, University Congregations, Discussions and Sermons have all now been postponed until further notice.


The red response is likely to be triggered either by government advice to close educational establishments; or by large numbers of staff being unable to work; or by large numbers of students being away, and unable to return.

This phase will impose major operational restrictions on the University, such that all students will be required to return to their homes, if possible, or, on an exceptional basis, will be accommodated in colleges where not.

Staff will be asked to work from home where possible, with priority given to business critical activities. Buildings are likely to be at least partially shut, apart from those cases where staff must remain on site to service critical functions (for instance to ensure security, care for animals or plants, or maintain biomedical research projects).

We are not yet in the red phase. However, we are ready to move swiftly to this phase if necessary. It is in this spirit that we have made the following recommendations.


Prof Graham Virgo, the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, yesterday issued a message to students. At the moment, this advice remains unchanged.

While we remain in an amber response phase we are:

  • Encouraging cancellation of large group meetings (50 people or above) and restriction of social interaction
  • Asking Faculties and Departments to continue to provide teaching and assessment for students as far as is reasonably practicable, with some of it moved online.
  • Making efforts to keep University facilities, including libraries, learning spaces and laboratories open for students who choose to remain here, and to enable core University business to continue, including research, administration, maintenance and student and staff support.
  • Asking students to be strict about hygiene (washing of hands) and social distancing.

If we remain in Amber into the Easter Term (beginning in late April), small group teaching and supervision would continue, with enhanced measures for online teaching.

If we move to red:

  • Major operational restrictions will be in place, meaning that students will not return after the Easter holiday.
  • Students who are in Cambridge will be asked to return home if they can, or, on an exceptional basis, will be accommodated and supported by Colleges if they cannot. Already foreign governments are closing their borders to all but their own nationals, and students are strongly advised to make their plans accordingly.
  • All face-to-face teaching will be cancelled, and we will look at allowing examinations to be taken online.
  • Post-graduate research students would not be able to continue working in labs or other university facilities.

Our concern at all times is to ensure students are supported. As ever, Tutors, Senior Tutors and College Nurses are available for practical, pastoral and academic support. If students are concerned about financial hardship as a result of changes to living arrangements, they should contact their Senior Tutor.


Detailed guidance was sent to all staff yesterday by Prof Eilís Ferran, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International and Institutional Relations. It includes specific information on the University’s policies on pay and sick pay, on working from home, on annual leave, and on University accommodation.

We will continue to support staff as they find new ways of working. We ask that colleagues with underlying health problems (those in the “at risk” group) take steps to self-isolate as recommended by public health authorities. To those who do come into work, we ask that you are strict about hygiene (washing of hands) and social distancing.

A special fund is being established to support staff who find themselves in short-term financial hardship related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has today advised British nationals to avoid all non-essential foreign travel. Until further notice, all University staff should avoid any international travel on University business. I strongly encourage you to review personal overseas travel, as well.

I ask that members of staff with queries about HR arrangements contact their line-managers in the first instance.

Prospective students

It is impossible to say what will be happening in six months. I wish to reassure anyone who has applied to Cambridge that we are thinking about our future students, too, and that we will keep you informed as and when we can.

With best wishes,


Professor Stephen J Toope


Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.