The UCU's statement echoes reports that 1003 students and 12 staff members at Newcastle University have tested positive for coronavirus in the last seven days. It describes the outbreak as “entirely predictable and preventable”.
The statement also announces that the Newcastle University UCU branch will hold an emergency general meeting next Wednesday to decide its next course of action. It follows the unanimous vote taken by the Northumbria University branch of the UCU on Tuesday to ballot for strike action.
This just out. pic.twitter.com/3F2SW53qhr
— Newcastle University UCU (@NewcastleUniUCU) October 8, 2020
The Newcastle University branch of the UCU explained “We believe that Newcastle University management has failed to take its responsibilities to staff and students under the health and safety legislation sufficiently seriously."
“At every step they have refused to provide necessary information about the extent of the outbreak.”
The statement also accuses the University management of lacking leadership and responsibility. Specifically, it accuses the University of failing to conduct “appropriately detailed risk assessments of the individual buildings in which our members would be working with students”.
In a statement of their own, Newcastle University called for unity, opining that "Pulling together as one community is so important at this current time". The University insists it has "worked tirelessly" to make the campus COVID-secure.
"We have a team of highly trained and experienced Occupational Health and Safety and Business Continuity advisors who have developed and implemented a range of measures and guidelines to control the risk of transmission of COVID-19."
“As a result, many teams are already back on campus, keeping the University open and conducting face-to-face teaching for courses such as Medicine and Dentistry."
The University also claims to have "no evidence to date that there is any transmission in ‘on campus’ work environments".
"Like many universities, we have seen a significant rise in the number of cases among our students. The overwhelming majority of these cases are from infections acquired within social and residential settings," the statement explains.
"The time spent teaching our students is what drives so many of us to do this job and where present-in-person teaching is no longer possible, we know many colleagues are working hard to ensure that sessions are delivered live so that we retain the face-to-face element."
Newcastle is not the only university experiencing a rise in cases. Northumbria University saw 619 more students test positive in the last seven days, bringing the total of positive cases up to 1389.
At Durham University, 219 students have tested positive in the last seven days, bringing the total up to 251. Three members of staff have tested positive in the same time period, bringing the total number of staff infected up to five.
Students at two of the 17 Durham colleges are being asked not to leave campus for the next seven days. It follows 50 students testing positive at Collingwood College, and a further 50 at St Mary’s College.
The numbers represent one in ten of Collingwood’s student cohort and one in six of St Mary’s. Students have also been instructed to only attend events if they are organised by Durham University.
Featured Image: Joe Molander