UK Government Steps Up Coronavirus Response – What it means for you:

At around 5 PM yesterday (Thursday 12 March), Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK government would be moving from the ‘containment’ phase to the ‘delay’ phase in dealing with the corona virus outbreak. Boris Johnson painted a bleak picture of what was ahead saying this was the worst public health crisis regeneration, and warning that some families will lose loved ones before their time. As of yesterday, in the briefing that gets sent round by Public health England in the afternoon there were 596 confirmed cases of the virus in the UK, and 10 deaths have been recorded so far. Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, warned that the real number infected could be between 5,000 and 10,000. The Prime Minister said that it was not only a question of deciding what measures to implement, but also a matter of deciding when to implement them in order to have the greatest effect. With this in mind, we’ll outline for you what new measures the government will be taking and what that will mean for life at Royal Holloway in the short-term future.

Whats the new line from the government?

Previously, the UK had been in what was known as the containment phase – this meant that the focus was on stopping the spread of the virus and ensuring as few people as possible were exposed to it in order to try to stop it becoming a large issue. The movement to the delay phase means that officials have now accepted that widespread exposure is now inevitable, but will continue to give out the same advice as they did in the containment phase, but with the addition of social restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus down as much as possible – this is to try to spread the peak of the disease over a wider period in order to alleviate the strain on public health services.

So, what is the new advice?

Essentially, we’re now at the stage where the following measures are in place:

  • Anyone with a ‘new, continuous’ cough or high temperature should self-isolate for seven days
  • Testing for the virus will only focus on people in hospital
  • If you’re showing symptoms of the virus, then you shouldn’t call the already stretched 111 service, but should go to the NHS website or 111 online
  • The government is considering putting a ban on major public events such as sports fixtures, festivals, concerts etc. As yet, they haven’t enforced such restrictions but many event organisers have cancelled or postponed their events as a precaution.

As yet, there are no enforced school closures (in contrast to the Republic of Ireland) or instructions for whole households to self-isolate of one member of it falls ill with symptoms. Although these are all measures that could be implemented in the future, the government has said that it’s crucial that the timing of the implementation of such measures is right, as to bring in such efforts too early could do more harm than good.

What about at Uni?

But what does all this mean for university students? Exact information varies from institution to institution. For example, Southampton University has decided to bring forward its end of term, a source at the University of Edinburgh informed me that in-person classes have been cancelled along with first and second year exams. While other universities continue to operate almost as normal.

At Royal Holloway, advice continues to be updated on a regular basis, and details vary in between schools and departments, but at the time of writing this it’s understood that as much teaching as possible will be delivered online from Monday 23rd March, but that any staff who were in a position to host lectures and other forms of learning online before then should do so. Staff also appear to have the option to work away from campus if they wish, some have said that they do intend to do this but will be keeping their emails open to any questions that students may have. Indeed, end of term meetings with staff may be conducted online but students are still expected to attend them if they have to. Much to the dismay of second-year geography students, RHUL has also decided any international travel on “college related business” should be cancelled – the ban will remain in place until 27th April at the earliest.

Regarding exams, RHUL says that for the time being students should work on the assumption that they will take place as planned, but that any changes that may happen will be communicated with students.

Regarding self-isolation, the college says:

You need to self-isolate for 14 days if you have reasonable suspicion that you may have contracted coronavirus after you have had confirmed contact with someone who has the virus or you have returned from a country that is high risk. If this applies to you, please contact Security, 01784 443888 and email [email protected].

Earlier today, RHUL University Staff twitter account said that they had been contacted by students concerned about a possible case in a student:

As far as we know there are no suspected cases of students self-isolating here. We’re continuing to investigate the rumours. If you’re worried or have info contact [email protected].

How can I keep myself safe?

The advice from the NHS on what you can do remains the same:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water more often – and for at least 20 seconds (roughly the time it takes to sing happy birthday twice). If soap and water aren’t to hand, then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Wash your hands when you return home or get to work.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands!) to cough or sneeze.
  • Bin used tissues immediately and wash your hands
  • Avoid close contact with those who are unwell.
  • DO NOT touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are unclean.

Above all, good personal hygiene and staying sensible is the best course of action you can take.

If you have any questions or comments on the situation with COVID-19 or have been affected in some way, get in touch by emailing [email protected].