Coronavirus Chaos at UK Universities

 In recent weeks, Universities across the country have had to take action in order to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as Covid-19 as the government has simultaneously escalated measures including a nationwide shutdown.

At the University of Leeds, this initially came with an announcement on Friday 13th March that the University would seek to transition to online teaching by 27th April, the date that students were due to return to their studies after the Easter holidays. In a statement on this website at the time, the University said that “the health and wellbeing of our staff, students and visitors are our priority”. 

This was then followed by further announcements on 16th March that all lectures and non-practical classes, and later that all laboratory classes, would transition to online teaching by 6pm on Wednesday 18th March. It was then announced on 17th March that all University libraries had closed until they had assessed the government’s advice with the exception of Laidlaw library. As of Tuesday 24th March after the government announced a nationwide lockdown on Monday 23rd, all library buildings are closed until further notice.

Examinations have been cancelled for all undergraduate students not in their final years and for final year students, examinations and dissertations will be completed online. Leeds University Union announced that the building was closing until further notice transitioning all its services to online. On Tuesday 17th March, venues Old Bar and Terrace closed after St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

On Monday 23rd, it was announced by the government further extreme measures were needed to stop the spread of the virus after there were reports of large gatherings in public spaces over the weekend. This included restrictions on outdoor exercise to one per day to increased powers for the police including fines for gatherings of more than two people

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the outbreak of coronavirus as the “worst public health crisis for a generation”.

Since the government’s announcement on Monday, according to data from the London Underground, passenger numbers have decreased by 90% with bus journeys decreasing by 20%. Incredibly, it has reported that by 11pm on 25th March, 150,000 people had signed up in less than 24 hours to volunteer to help the NHS.

On Wednesday, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, has said he believes the NHS will now be able to cope under the government’s new strategy though intensive care units would get “very close to capacity” but were not likely to be breached as “national level”. 

Ferguson has previously published a study arguing that the National Health Service would likely be overwhelmed. The earlier study found that the UK’s “herd immunity” strategy at the time could lead to 80% of the country infected and over half a million deaths and was quickly scrapped as a result. 

It was reported in the Sunday Times that Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser, was one of the proponents of this strategy and the paper claimed that he had said at an event in February “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”. Downing Street and Mr. Cummings have denied these claims however and have described the account as “highly defamatory fabrication”.

Other Universities have also seen a rapid transition to online teaching. The University of Newcastle has postponed all summer graduation ceremonies according to The Courier and all campus teaching was suspended until the end of the year. This was after 1300 students signed a petition demanding that the University cancel all face-to-face teaching and meetings. 

The University of East Anglia on Tuesday has offered “students living in University accommodation the chance to end their rent contracts early” according to Concrete. At the University of Sheffield, Varsity was cancelled and the students’ Union has closed until further notice. However,= discussions are still ongoing according to Forge Press over examinations and assessments.