Information for staff and students on the 'red phase' of response to the Coronavirus pandemic including online teaching, homeworking and building closures.

The 19 March 2020 update to staff from the Vice-Chancellor about the University's response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Dear colleagues,

I begin by thanking you all for the swift and effective action following yesterday’s announcement that the University has moved into its 'red' phase of response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

To reiterate yesterday’s main messages:

  • We are asking students – undergraduate and postgraduate, whether on taught or research-based courses— to return home now, if possible. Students unable to leave Cambridge will continue to be supported by their Colleges. To be clear, no students who cannot go home are being evicted by their College. They will continue to receive accommodation, welfare and practical support.
  • We are asking all University staff, except those needed for business-critical activity, to begin working from home by 5pm on Friday 20 March.
  • From 5pm on Friday 20 March, all University buildings will be closed to students. Some buildings will remain open to some members of staff to maintain basic functionality and business-critical activity.


All teaching will move online in the Easter term.

Significant work is going on to put in place alternative forms of assessment. Tomorrow we will be publishing an FAQ webpage for students, which we hope will answer some of the questions students are understandably raising about this topic. We will continue to update the webpage as our plans develop. We remain committed to informing students of the nature of their form of assessment by 31 March.

Information about looking after your mental health and wellbeing at this uncertain time can be found here.

The Disability Resource centre remains open. Adviser appointments are available online, or via phone or via email. All students who are being supported through the DRC’s non-medical help scheme can still access their support remotely.

Student Union leadership is in daily contact with the University’s leadership. We will continue to work closely with both student unions to address, as best we can, all issues affecting students.


Detailed information about HR arrangements was circulated yesterday to Heads of Institution and Departmental Administrators across the University. A homeworking protocol is available on the University’s website. We urge Heads of Departments, Faculties and other University institutions to make colleagues and teams aware of it.

We are in contact with representatives of the trade unions, and engaging with the issues they have raised.

Yesterday we published new advice to staff on wellbeing and mental health as well as information about wellbeing support.


A detailed message went out earlier today to Heads of Institutions about how to determine whether buildings should be closed or can remain open.

It will not be possible to keep many buildings open given the health and safety and security requirements, which I appreciate presents particular problems for research activity. Where research can be done remotely, then that of course should continue. However, unless it is related to COVID-19 (including vaccinations, testing, public health and patient care), all research undertaken on University premises will need to be paused. Special arrangements will obviously be made to care for plants or animals that are critical to research.

Tackling COVID-19

At this time of crisis, I am heartened by the response of colleagues across the Collegiate University to national efforts to combat this pandemic.

Some colleges have offered to accommodate key workers such as NHS staff who are essential to our public services.

University departments are loaning equipment to help national testing efforts. Cambridge epidemiologists, pathologists, immunologists, mathematicians and veterinary scientists are offering valuable expertise and helping public understanding of the disease.

Elsewhere, University colleagues are flagging up specific ways in which companies and individuals can contribute to address manufacturing-related challenges resulting from COVID-19. We are also offering access, both nationally and locally, to the University’s expertise in road-mapping of supply chains, support for operational improvement and re-purposing of existing manufacturing chains.

I will keep you updated about such efforts, which I am immensely proud of and grateful for.

Sincerely yours,


Professor Stephen J Toope


Further resources

Go to the University's coronavirus advice and guidance pages

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