Information for staff about contingency planning, the COVID Management Team, and advice for event planners.

Dear colleagues, 

Like all of you, senior University colleagues and I have been closely monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 

It is now obvious that this outbreak is likely to have serious consequences for the daily lives of our students and staff, and for our University’s current and future operations – from arrangements for lectures, seminars and examinations to the management of teams, the running of buildings or the staffing of laboratories and libraries. I am in no doubt about the disruptive effects that this public health emergency will have on all of us. I wish to reassure you that dedicated teams across the University and Colleges are working to ensure that these disruptive effects are contained and minimized. 

A lot of effort has gone into contingency planning over the past few weeks. Safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our people is our main concern. We acknowledge that, as more members of our community become ill or are required to take time off work, there will be a knock-on effect on the University’s normal functions. In these circumstances, we will all have to set priorities and concentrate our efforts on managing critical business. As well as being patient, I ask that we all endeavor to be flexible, pragmatic, generous of spirit and kind. 

A dedicated COVID Management Team, co-chaired by Dr Dan Tucker (Chair of the Advisory Group on Communicable Diseases) and Professor Graham Virgo (Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education), is drawing on relevant expertise from across the University and Colleges to agree collegiate University communications, handle difficult issues, advise on policies and protocols, and act as a liaison between the University’s leadership team and the Colleges. 

As an institution – and as individuals – we will all be confronted with challenging decisions over the months ahead. My colleagues and I will continue to make every effort to share timely information to guide our decision-making. Later today, all academic institutions and Senior Tutors will receive further advice on how the University intends to manage teaching, learning and assessment in the weeks ahead. All students can expect to receive later today further specific advice from their Senior Tutors. 

Public Health England (PHE) is regularly updating its guidance. In making decisions in the days ahead, I ask that you refer as frequently as possible to that advice, which can be found on the University’s regularly updated Coronavirus advisory webpage. This webpage has a helpful FAQ section, relevant to staff, students and visitors. 

PHE has not yet issued a blanket ban on holding or attending public events. Therefore, no University-wide policy of event cancellation is in place at this stage. We are aware, however, that some University-related events have been cancelled or postponed due to low attendance, to speakers pulling out, or because they required attendees to travel to Cambridge. Any University institution that is uneasy about proceeding with a public event should feel free to cancel it if, having weighed the risks, it chooses to do so. It may be a sensible precaution to avoid planning any new events in the near future. 

Given the volatility and fast-moving nature of the epidemic, we once again recommend that you keep any international travel plans under careful review (you can refer to our webpage and the FCO advice page for up-to-date information). As I have said before, we must all balance the need to travel against the risk of infection to us and those around us. At this point in the outbreak, we must also be mindful of the risk of inadvertently spreading the disease to other less-affected countries. Other than students and staff returning home, I would strongly discourage overseas travel that is not essential. Once again, individuals and departments will have to balance the need for travel against the risks it may entail. I can report that I have myself cancelled all overseas travel for the next few weeks. 

It is our priority to support our staff and students in these difficult times. Our devolved and collegiate structure will place considerable decision-making responsibility on many colleagues. I want to be clear that the University will support everyone in the hard choices they will need to make in responding to this unprecedented outbreak. 

I am also conscious that, especially as the public health emergency extends into the weeks or months ahead, some members of staff may worry about the financial impact of long periods of time away from work. The University will make every effort to ensure that its staff and students are fully supported, including financially, as the University deals with these extraordinary circumstances. 

These will be testing times for our community. I am confident that Cambridge has both the necessary resources and the necessary resilience to see us through. 

With best wishes, 

Stephen 

Professor Stephen J Toope 

Vice-Chancellor 


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