News Reporter Becky Gelder reports on the University of Birmingham’s response to the coronavirus pandemic

Written by Becky Gelder
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Editor’s note: This article was first published in Redbrick 1517 on Friday, March 20th. You can keep up to date with the University’s response to the coronavirus pandemic HERE

The University of Birmingham looks to move all teaching online in an effort to limit use of the Edgbaston campus and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In its most recent statement regarding the coronavirus, released on 26th March 2020, the University responded to the Prime Minister’s statement regarding the pandemic: ‘any students or staff that fall into the following categories – over 70, pregnant, or with a pre-existing health condition – should not come onto campus in light of today’s guidance from the Prime Minister.’

Professor Sir David Eastwood, the Vice-Chancellor, made a statement explaining: ‘In all our planning we have been guided by two principles – firstly the need to minimise the impact and risk to staff and students, and secondly the requirement to sustain essential operations while minimising the need for staff and students to travel to or operate from the Edgbaston campus.’

For students holding a Tier 4 Visa, current regulations have been relaxed by the government, meaning that if they are not able to return as planned as a result of COVID-19, ‘they will not face any penalties or visa restrictions as a consequence of the current situation.’

Prior to the statement made on the 26th March, an email had been sent to students in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences (LES), informing them of a number of suspected cases within the college. The email also notified students that these members of staff would be ‘staying at home to self-isolate in accordance with PHE guidance’ and that as a ‘precautionary measure’ the first floor of the Old Gym would be closed to allow a deep clean to take place.

The University has also made the decision to close all non-essential buildings, and is looking to move towards restricting a further campus operation, aiming for this to be in full effect by the 27th March. This will mean that all on-campus research activity will cease on this date, although the belief is that much of this will be able to carry on remotely.

It is likely that most examinations due to take place in the summer term will be moved online, or in some cases an alternate form of assessment will be used.

In a statement made during Officer Question Time on the 16th March, Guild President Joshua Williams said: ‘I cannot tell you what tomorrow will bring, but the one thing I can say is be kind.’

‘None of us have experienced a situation like this before… it is important to look out for your friends and family and those around you.’

Activities and Employability Officer Ryan Ginger also apologised during the OQT for a post made to the student Facebook Page ‘Fab N’ Fresh,’ in which he wrote about drinks deals available at the Guild’s student night. Ginger noted that the post had been ‘in poor taste’ considering the current climate, and maintained it was ‘not the Guild trying to make a profit,’ but instead that all of the money made through drinks sales would in fact be used by the Guild for the benefit of the students.

The spread of the virus has also had consequences for university sports fixtures. In a statement on their website, British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) made the decision to ‘suspend the commencement of any BUCS activity, both sporting and non-sporting, from 23.59hrs on Tuesday 17 March 2020 until 9.00hrs Wednesday 1 April 2020.’ As well as this, University of Birmingham Sport and Fitness have made the decision to close both the main gym and the Tiverton gym from the 27th March. The email reassures students that they will be compensated for the loss of access to fitness facilities, although due to uncertainty about reopening dates this is not able to be confirmed at the current time.

As of 9am on 16 March 2020, the UK government have reported 1,543 confirmed cases, while on a global scale the World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that there have been 167,511 cases, with a total of 6.606 deaths.

You can listen to Redbrick and Burn FM’s new coronavirus podcast, Pandemicast, HERE.

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