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Newcastle to remain open amid COVID-19 outbreak

Written by Featured, News

Despite growing fears about the spread of COVID-19, Newcastle University announced on Friday that it currently intends to remain open despite other UK universities, including Durham and Northumbria, temporarily suspending in-classroom teaching.

The decision has been made, however, to cancel public events, such as the upcoming Insights public lectures, being held by the University. The University has furthermore decided that separate emails will be sent to students at 4pm each weekday to update them on developments to reflect the continuously-changing nature of Public Health England’s advice.  As of 9am on Friday 13 March, Newcastle has five confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of a population of over 300,000.

The University is not currently planning on altering its ReCap policy, meaning that students who chose not to attend lectures, labs and seminars that are not normally recorded using ReCap will still be unable to access recordings online.

Addressing fears that exams or lectures might eventually need to be cancelled, a statement from the University said: “Currently, the plan is to deliver teaching and exams as scheduled. However, we are also making contingency plans to minimise the academic impact of a coronavirus outbreak.

“We have established a COVID-19 Academic Group who are developing plans to deliver our classes and lectures remotely if the situation escalates. We are also working hard to develop multiple contingencies for the examinations themselves.”

The University has, however, clarified that congregation ceremonies are currently set to continue as normal, and that “it is not in a position to refund tuition fees”.

All non-essential international travel on University business has been advised against, with staff being urged to consider alternative arrangements such as video conferencing.

Previously, a statement issued by the University had warned that students leaving the country may encounter “issues with re-entry into the UK which could then affect [their] university studies”. This is likely to be of particular concern for international students, who may wish to return to their home countries during the up-coming Easter break.

Asked if the University had contacted international students privately to advise them, one Italian student said: “we weren’t given any specific guidance on returning to our home countries for the Easter break. We got the email everybody got, where they just referred us to the government advice on the topic”.

Italy currently has over 15,000 cases of COVID-19 that have led to the whole country being in lock-down, with all shops apart from pharmacies and supermarkets closed until 25 March. Universities, schools, gyms, museums, night-clubs, and other venues where large numbers of people gather have also been closed.

When faced with concerns over whether some international students’ academic performances will suffer, the University reiterated that they are discouraging any staff or students from leaving the country. However, they also added: “We understand this is an uncertain and worrying time for everyone and any student who feels they need to return home will not be penalised”.

The University has recalled students studying in Italy and China back to England and have advised students in other countries to return home if their university has closed or has moved to online teaching. For any other students, they have advised that they return home if they are worried about the situation.

After Gateshead confirmed its first case last Friday, a social club in Pelaw announced that it would be closing for a week for deep cleaning after a staff member showed symptoms following advice from Public Health England.

The Co-op in the Union has introduced limits on hygiene product sales
Image: Patrick Harland

The Co-op in the Union has limited purchases of hand sanitiser, antibacterial soap, tissues and toilet roll to a maximum of any three items per customer in response to “exceedingly high demand”. Addressing concerns about shortages, the University has “an adequate quantity of supplies to provide all washrooms with soap. Additional hand sanitisers are being provided in PC clusters, on entrances to buildings and in areas of high footfall.

“Cleaning staff are being re-directed from lower priority tasks to cleaning washrooms and other areas to increase the frequency of service. However any surface is only as clean as the hands that have touched it. We will be cleaning surfaces regularly but we need everyone to play their part.”

UPDATE (16 March): classroom-based teaching to be suspended at Newcastle

UPDATE (17 March): summer graduation ceremonies postponed

Written by Em Richardson & Grace Dean

Last modified: 26th May 2020

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