Information for staff about the University's response to the growing outbreak, including the Coronavirus information webpage, Public Health England advice, and further contingency planning.

Dear colleagues, 

As we hear more news about the global spread of Coronavirus, it is inevitable that we should all feel anxious about our health and that of our colleagues, friends and relatives. I am writing to share some information on what the University and the Colleges are doing in response to the outbreak. 

No cases of infection have been confirmed in Cambridge – neither at the University nor across the city. The likelihood remains high, however, that the first instances of infection will be reported soon.  

If and when that happens, there is no reason to feel unduly worried. We are aware that the large majority of those who contract this virus experience only mild symptoms, not unlike the flu. We know that the virus primarily affects those with compromised immune systems or other underlying conditions, so I urge people who feel they are at risk to be especially careful in following public health guidelines. 

The University and the Colleges are making every effort to put in place the processes to deal effectively with a wider outbreak. Over the past few weeks, colleagues across the collegiate University have been working tirelessly to make sure that we are prepared for any escalation, while also making sure that action taken is proportionate and in line with government advice. 

Both the University’s Director for Occupational Health and Safety, Dr Martin Vinnell, and the Chair of the University’s Advisory Group on Communicable Diseases, Dr Dan Tucker, are regularly in touch with Public Health England (PHE). They have been providing the necessary guidance to the Colleges – for instance, on how to manage any cases of self-isolation among students, should they be necessary. I am hugely grateful to them, and to the many colleagues across the Collegiate University who have been making preparations. 

I hope most of you will already be aware of our dedicated Coronavirus information webpage, which provides access to the latest government advice on health and travel. It will answer many of the questions students or staff might have. It also offers a glimpse into research being carried out by some of the University’s own experts on communicable disease. Further information will be added the webpage as it becomes available over the coming days. It is worth reiterating that the government, not the University, has ultimate responsibility for providing public health advice. We are following the advice closely, and trying to communicate it in a timely way. I urge you to continue to refer to the webpage for up-to-date guidance. 

Should the virus spread further and affect our city, as appears likely, there will be unavoidable disruption to the collegiate University’s core activities. Contingency plans are already being made for events occurring next Term, including examinations, and we will communicate about these as speedily as possible. There may be greater pressure on staff as people are forced to stay away from work to manage their own health or to care for dependants. Colleagues have been busy planning to ensure that such disruptions are minimal, but we will all have to be flexible in our arrangements. I ask for your patience and cooperation. 

With the end of term approaching, and Easter holidays looming, some of you will be wondering about disruption to plans – particularly involving travel to more widely affected countries or regions. We are recommending that you keep any travel plans under careful review (once again, please refer back to our webpage for up-to-date information). We will all have to balance the need to travel against the risk of infection to us and those around us. We must also be mindful of the potential for disruption on arrival at our destinations, during our stays, or indeed upon our return to the United Kingdom. Colleges are working together to ensure that international students who have had to cancel plans to travel home over the Easter holiday will find accommodation. 

At a time of crisis and uncertainty we can draw great strength from one another. I ask that we all continue to follow the official guidance, and in doing so continue to support and show solidarity with each other as best we can. When anxiety is high, when personal plans have been disrupted, and when worries about our health are paramount, the kindness of fellow staff and students can make an enormous difference. 

We are a decent and caring University community. I am certain that, with each other’s support, we will get through what may become a difficult period. 

With best wishes, 


Professor Stephen J Toope 


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