Imperial puts more teaching online as Omicron spreads on campuses

Oxford reports 33 per cent increase in Covid-19 cases in a week, with many of them the new variant

December 10, 2021
Imperial College London
Source: iStock

Imperial College London has moved non-essential teaching online for the final days of term amid mounting concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 on UK university campuses.

In a message to students, Emma McCoy, Imperial’s vice-provost (education and student experience), said the institution was “experiencing rapidly rising Covid-19 case numbers, including Omicron, both in the wider community and on campus”.

“We need to take urgent measures to reduce the spread of the virus and keep the community safe,” Professor McCoy said. “From tomorrow, we are asking staff to move teaching online for the final days of term. Where in-person teaching is essential, we will continue – in small groups and with social distancing.

“Essential research will continue with our existing Covid-19 safety protocols, so research staff and students will be on campus in line with this policy.”

Imperial’s message came shortly after the Department for Education said English universities should continue delivering face-to-face teaching and should not shift tuition online, with just a few days left of the autumn term.

Professor McCoy said Imperial’s Covid safety measures “have enabled us to deliver significant levels of in-person teaching this term already, and we are committed to keeping…programmes on track”.

She urged students to “postpone or reduce in scale any Christmas or end-of-term celebrations you may have planned”.

In a separate message to employees, Ian Walmsley, Imperial’s provost, urged “all staff to postpone Christmas parties or large on-campus gatherings”. He said the institution would “support students as we allow them to leave campus and their halls of residence early, in the many cases where their final week of studies can be taught remotely”.

Separately, the University of Oxford confirmed that there were 170 active Covid cases at the institution as of 8 December, an increase of 33 per cent on the previous week, with many of these confirmed as being the Omicron variant.

A university spokeswoman said there had been “a significant rise in the number of Covid-19 cases at the university in recent days, including confirmed cases of the Omicron variant”.

“Affected individuals are isolating in line with government guidance, and their contacts are also being notified and asked to isolate,” the spokeswoman said.

“Oxford University is following all the new guidance introduced by the government in response to the Omicron variant and is taking additional steps in light of the high concentration of cases around the university. Staff and students are being advised of these new steps today and also encouraged to use the public mobile testing unit now established in Radcliffe Square, along with our existing early alert service.

“The health and welfare of our staff and students is our number one priority. The university remains in constant close contact with the public health authorities about the situation and is following their advice.”

The DfE guidance says that administrative staff who are not involved in the delivery of face-to-face tuition should work from home where possible, but that the “majority” of staff are expected on campus to deliver teaching and support services.

Many UK universities have been delivering large lectures online during the autumn term because of concerns over Covid-19, but most smaller group teaching has been taking place in person.

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