Beyond Level 0 and transition to normality

Beyond Level 0 and transition to normality

Dear colleagues,

Message to staff and PGR students

On Monday, 9 August, Scotland takes another step towards normality as we move to ‘beyond level zero’. This means almost all legal restrictions relating to Covid-19 will no longer apply, as outlined in the First Minister’s announcement earlier this week.

At the same time, our approach continues to take account of the specific guidance from the Scottish Government to the HE sector. We expect a further update to this guidance in the coming days, which means that some aspects of our approach in the coming weeks cannot yet be finalised and will be subject to further detailed consideration at Campus Planning Group on Tuesday. Nevertheless, we wish to give a broad indication of the direction of travel pending a more comprehensive update in light of the final guidance.

First Minister’s announcement

Some of the changes coming into place on Monday include:

• All physical distancing regulations to be lifted
• No limits to size of social gatherings
• No venues legally required to close e.g. nightclubs

However, the First Minister stressed that this does not signal the end of the pandemic, and certain measures remain including:

• Face coverings must still be worn in the same indoor settings as now e.g. hospitality, public transport
• Test and Protect tracing in hospitality continues
• Local restrictions could be reintroduced as and when necessary
• For a limited period, organisers of large-scale events will have to apply to local authorities for permission
• From 9 August, double-vaccinated close contacts will not have to self-isolate if they return a negative PCR test
• Home working continues where possible for now with a gradual approach taken to workers returning to offices

Sector specific guidance

While some further updates to Scottish Government guidance for universities and colleges are expected, the broad thrust of the guidance is unlikely to change significantly, and key steering principles can be summarised as follows:

• Robust and proportionate measures in place in order to minimise the risk of significant outbreaks.
• Continuing baseline measures including good hand hygiene, surface cleaning and ventilation, and continuing compliance with Test and Protect.
• Strong recommendation to implement a greater level of protective measures at the start of term that takes particular account of the profile of vaccination across the population, and concentrations of young people in student accommodation.
• Institutions should ensure measures go further than the minimum baseline where that is necessary to keep people safe. This could include, for example, limiting student numbers in lectures; keeping class lists for test and protect purposes; hand-sanitisation stations; one-way systems; face coverings; voluntary physical distancing and / or provision of materials to clean surfaces.
• Continued support for home working where possible and appropriate, but without detriment to learning, the overall student experience, our research activity and considering the impacts of isolation and unsatisfactory home working environments on staff wellbeing.

Our approach as a University

While recognising that the move to beyond level 0 represents a decisive shift for wider society and the University, we are planning, in line with the sector guidance, to adopt a number of enhanced measures for a transition period from 9 August until at least the end of September (to cover the start of term). This will allow the opportunity for all students, including students arriving from overseas, to have access to vaccination. Key elements of our approach, which will be kept under continual review, are set out below.

Access to Campus

Subject to final approval by Campus Planning Group next week, it is expected that staff and postgraduate research students who wish to work on campus will shortly no longer need to seek permission to do so through the Return to Campus Oversight Group. Instead, staff and PGR students wishing to return to work on campus will be able to do so subject to approval by their line manager / supervisor.

Staff and PGR students currently attending campus on a rotational basis (e.g. in research facilities), will also be able to resume normal operational hours without the need for rotation. We expect to be able to confirm these new arrangements for campus access by the end of next week at the latest.

Please be aware that it will take some time for all signage on campus that has been in place to facilitate 2 metre distancing to be modified or removed.

Face Coverings

Staff and PGR students should continue to wear face coverings when circulating in buildings, and where voluntary distancing may not be able to be observed. Staff who wish to continue to wear a face covering once at their desk / workstation may of course continue to do so, but this is not a requirement, subject to agreement of colleagues should the space be a shared one. Social spaces will operate in line with the hospitality sector, i.e. face coverings must continue to be worn until seated. Further consideration will be given to the current requirement for face coverings to be worn in teaching settings, prior to the start of teaching.

Timetabling

Timetabling for the first half session continues to be planned on the basis that large lectures will not be held in person, and all other events are timetabled on the basis of one metre distancing.

Ventilation

Ventilation will be maximised across our campuses, either through mechanical ventilation or through the opening of windows where possible, with CO2 monitors being deployed to monitor the effectiveness of ventilation.

Cleaning

Enhanced cleaning will continue across campus.

Vaccine and testing

The First Minister also spoke of the success of the vaccination programme. Once again, while recognising it is a personal choice, we encourage all our community to get both doses of the vaccine unless there are medical reasons that prevent you from doing so – find out more here.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has also announced that all 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK will be offered the Covid vaccine. Those in that age bracket in mainland Scotland can register their interest from today 6 August and it is expected that everyone that age will have been offered a vaccination appointment by the end of September, according to the Scottish Government. This is a very welcome and reassuring development.

Students arriving from overseas will also have access to vaccinations and we expect to support NHS Grampian with the operation of a vaccination centre on campus around the start of the first half session.

It was also announced that students will be encouraged to take a PCR test before any move to term-time accommodation and then to test twice weekly after that. Free lateral flow kits – for testing of those with no symptoms of the virus – are still available for collection from the Community Testing Centre at our Butchart Centre on University Road.

Homeworking – equipment responsibilities

We thought it might be helpful to clarify a number of questions with regard to equipment for homeworking.

For Regular or Permanent Homeworking, the University will provide IT equipment which is reasonably required to work from home and all such equipment will remain the University’s property. A standard specification of IT equipment for homeworking has been defined by IT and is outlined in the document IT Provision for Hybrid Working available in the Homeworking Toolkit.

It is not expected that the University will provide desks or chairs for homeworking and it is assumed where an individual applies to work at home on a continuing basis that they have appropriate space and furniture to allow them to have an appropriate working environment which would meet Display Screen Equipment homeworking requirements.

Any further equipment needs must be discussed with your line manager and costs will be met by the School/Directorate where this is a requirement to support specific health needs.

While, standard IT equipment that is required for working from home will be supplied by the University, the University will not reimburse staff who purchase items to make their homeworking environment more comfortable where they are requesting to work from home rather than it being a requirement of the role.

Where homeworking is agreed and there is a health reason for specific equipment the University will provide the equipment in line with Occupational Health Service guidance. Where the costs of providing this equipment is prohibitive the application to work from home should be reconsidered, particularly where there is a requirement to have sets of equipment in both the home and work locations.

Staff working from home are expected to provide a secure environment for equipment provided by the University, and to protect the physical and intellectual University property in their charge. Confidential documents should be stored securely and disposed of by secure methods. Portable computers and electronic information systems administered by the University may be used only by members of staff.

Events

Many staff and students are involved in delivering events - both on and off campus. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic and in-person events begin to return, there are a range of considerations staff should be aware of ahead of planning events over the coming months.

A special events group has developed an online process to guide the safe delivery of in-person events and more information on that will be shared in our staff ezine later this month. The group has also developed this flowchart to guide event organisers who must follow these steps. In the meantime, if you are planning an event within the next month, please contact events@abdn.ac.uk for further information.

This is a moment of significant transition for us all, and it will take time, patience and understanding from everyone in our whole community as we work through this period in the next month or two up to and through the start of the next half session. There will be questions to resolve along the way. As ever, any queries can be directed to coronavirus@abdn.ac.uk.

We will provide a further update following Campus Planning Group’s meeting next week.

Best wishes,

Karl and Tracey

Karl Leydecker

Senior Vice-Principal

Tracey Slaven

University Secretary and Chief Operating Officer