COVID-19 update: National restrictions in England

Earlier this week the Prime Minister announced a new ‘lockdown’ in England in response to an increase in case numbers. This is partly the result of the emergence of a new, more infectious strain of COVID-19. The new restrictions came into effect yesterday (Tuesday) and the Government also published further details about arrangements for teaching in universities.

Following these announcements,  discussions have taken place with colleagues across the University to agree what exactly these changes mean for teaching arrangements.

National restrictions

Over recent weeks we made a number of decisions about our activities at the University – in particular, limiting the number of students who will have face-to-face teaching in January – and so we do not have to make many immediate changes as a result of Monday’s announcement. However, the new national restrictions do raise a number of important issues and we all have a responsibility to adhere to the new measures. Under the latest restrictions, people are only allowed to leave home to:

  • Shop for basic necessities, for yourself or a vulnerable person
  • Go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if this cannot reasonably be done from home
  • Exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, which should be limited to once a day and not involve travelling outside of your local area
  • Meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
  • Seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • Attend education or childcare, for those who are eligible.

The full guidance is available on the Government website here.

Teaching arrangements under the new restrictions

The last bullet point in the list above is of course particularly important for universities, as it means that some categories of teaching are able to continue in-person. Students were emailed last Thursday with clarification from the Government about which courses this applies to, and this guidance continues to stand under the new restrictions in relation to both undergraduate and postgraduate taught study.

This means that in-person teaching will continue where required for clinical courses and other programmes where it is necessary as part of meeting requirements of particular professional bodies (for example, where work in laboratories or studios is essential). Those of you studying subjects in these categories should look out for specific communications related to your course and attend teaching as directed by your school or department.

The latest restrictions also mean that all programmes not included in the categories above must continue to be taught remotely. One significant change announced on Tuesday night is that this will continue to be the case until at least mid-February. At the moment, we cannot be certain when this will change but we will inform you as soon as there are any updates to the Government guidance. If you are studying remotely during this period and you are not currently on campus, this means you will not need to return until mid-February at the earliest – however, you may return if you need access to study resources provided on campus including study space, specialist facilities, libraries and IT.

Please remember that, although a number of essential services are available on campus, you should minimise contact with people outside of your household or support bubble and therefore only use physical facilities when it is absolutely necessary. Our libraries and other student services offer a wide range of services online, which will help you to avoid unnecessary travel. If you do visit campus, you must take personal responsibility for adhering to all public health measures including wearing a face covering, maintaining a distance from other people and washing your hands regularly.

Although we hope to introduce face-to-face teaching for all programmes at the earliest opportunity, we recognise these latest changes will create particular concerns for some students. We would like to provide reassurance to you that we will continue to support your learning whatever your personal circumstances. Therefore:

  • If you started your studies in October but you are currently overseas and face difficulties travelling as a result of the current situation, you will be able to complete your studies for the remainder of this academic year online if necessary – unless in-person teaching is essential and can be delivered in line with Government guidance at some stage, in which case your department will be able to make arrangements for you to complete this later in the academic year. Please note however that final year students wishing to obtain a post-study work visa must be in the UK before 6 April, 2021 to qualify.
  • If you started your studies in November or are due to start in January or February then your programme will be online until at least mid-February. Your department will contact you soon to confirm these arrangements and we will keep you updated about any future changes to the delivery of teaching on your programme as the situation hopefully improves in the months ahead.
  • If you are in the UK but unable to resume any in-person teaching on your course at a later date because Government guidance indicates you should not do so at the time given your particular personal circumstances – for example, if Government guidance states that you should shield, even at a point when in-person teaching resumes – again please be assured that we will make arrangements for you to continue your studies with our full support. Please speak directly to someone in your academic department if you would like to talk about this at any stage, although there is no need to take action now.

Staying safe on campus

The measures explained above will significantly reduce the number of students and staff on campus, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading among our University community. However, those of us studying or working on campus must also take personal responsibility for helping to prevent infection.

Please adhere to the following essential steps:

  • Observe the Hands – Face – Space public health guidance, as well as keeping rooms ventilated where appropriate.
  • We now expect all students and staff who are working on campus to take an asymptomatic test every 5 days. This can be done using the University’s asymptomatic testing service in the Sports Centre (details can be found here) or one of the SMART testing facilities in the city (details here).
  • If you have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, it is vitally important that you obtain a test and isolate until the result is known. Tests for people with symptoms of COVID-19 can be booked here.

By following these basic steps, we will significantly reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the whole University community while making a positive contribution to the wider efforts across the country to bring rates of infection down. Following this guidance, along with the roll-out of the new vaccines, is crucial to reaching a stage where case numbers are significantly lower and national restrictions can be reduced.

Impact on your studies

It is extremely important to us that you continue to get the support you need to successfully pursue your studies, regardless of how your teaching arrangements change through the academic year. We understand the pandemic has created difficulties for the majority of students and I would like to assure you that this will be taken into account when considering your overall attainment at the end of the year. We have robust processes to deal with extenuating circumstances, including giving exam boards considerable discretion to ensure that attainment is considered holistically and that all students receive equal consideration and receive fair outcomes. We will be writing to you next week with more detailed information about how assessments will run under the current circumstances. Also, don’t forget the wide range of support you can access at any time as a University of Liverpool student.

There are still a number of issues that we have to work through so please keep an eye on future email communications for updates