An update for students and staff about developments across Cambridge, particularly in relation to diagnostic testing and supporting the NHS, ahead of the UK's Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

Dear all,

Under normal circumstances, the week before Easter would be a quiet one for both students and staff across the University. For many of us, however, this week has been busier than ever as we plan for the next term and beyond.

We are hoping to resume some of the University’s regular committee work in the Easter term (remotely, of course). Serious consideration is being given to what the rest of this academic year (and indeed the academic year ahead), with all their teaching and learning, will look like. We are thinking about how to ensure the wellbeing of staff and students over the challenging months ahead. And much thought is going into when – and how – the University will resume its wide-ranging research endeavours.

I will update you on the ongoing work in future messages. For now, I wish to register my gratitude to all those colleagues across the collegiate University who have been busy grappling with these complex issues. This work involves teams ranging from security to Senior Tutors, from Estates to the Research Office, from medics to cleaners, and many, many more. From the bottom of my heart – thank you.

A global community

Yesterday I sent out a personal message to our alumni. I have been uplifted by the solidarity and generosity of our alumni around the world at this time of crisis – a vivid reminder that the Cambridge community is truly global, and more connected than ever.

Tackling COVID-19

Even in the current difficult circumstances, there are hugely positive developments to report.

Over the past few days, I have been regularly briefed about our local hospitals’ capacity to cope with a potential surge in the number of Coronavirus cases. The news is good. I am hugely impressed by the work undertaken at Addenbrooke’s and at the Royal Papworth in anticipation of an increase in the number of patients. I want to pay tribute to their leadership and all their staff.

I announced yesterday our plans to create a large-scale diagnostic testing facility for COVID-19 in collaboration with our partners at AstraZeneca and GSK. Both companies have supported research and studentships at Cambridge for many years, and I am delighted that we can now extend that partnership in service to the country.

Meanwhile, new testing for healthcare workers at the Cambridge University Hospitals has already been developed, and is currently being deployed. This new testing capability has been set up within the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease (CITIID) by academic research staff from the Department of Medicine, in collaboration with partner institutions including Addenbrooke’s Hospital, the COVID National BioResource and Public Health England (Cambridge). The speed and effectiveness with which people across a multitude of organisations have pulled together to deliver this direct benefit to the NHS is admirable and heartening.

Earlier this week, 265 final year medical students from the University of Cambridge graduated early. They will now be able to seek early registration with the General Medical Council and enter the NHS workforce before their expected start date in August. The beginning of a medical career is always challenging, but never more so than now. We owe these graduating students, and all our NHS colleagues, a huge thank you and wish them well in the future.

From staff at Cambridge Assessment supporting local foodbanks, to ongoing organisational efforts to ensure that the right personal protective equipment reaches our health workers, it has been wonderful to see the wider Cambridge community rallying at a time of crisis.

Learning about the past, looking ahead

It has been instructive to learn about how the University and Colleges responded to pandemics in the past. This recent post from Gonville and Caius College is sobering, but also reminds us that the University has persevered and thrived despite periods of intense hardship. It is a lesson from which I take some solace.

With the Easter Bank Holiday upon us, our Botanic Garden’s newest 'wellness wander' opens up a delightful window to enjoy the great outdoors safely and responsibly.

A final 'Easter egg' comes in the form of this latest video of staff and students adapting to new ways of working.

We are also in the week of Passover, a time that traditionally brings families together. Passover has certainly been a key moment of my own family life. Like many of you, this year I will be physically distant from my immediate family. Despite the absence of our loved ones, I hope this moment of pause allows us to reflect on the things that matter most to us all.

I will be back in touch after the long Bank Holiday weekend. In the meantime, I wish you all a restful and peaceful break.

Best wishes,


Professor Stephen J Toope​