Oxford University has published further information concerning its plans to ensure the health of both students and staff for the upcoming academic year. Priority testing, mandatory face coverings, and additional welfare support are among the key measures announced.

In partnership with the NHS, the University is creating a new in-house COVID-19 testing service for students and staff. Two sites – one in the city centre and one in Headington – will be opened in September, ready for the start of Michaelmas term.

Anyone who suspects they may have caught the virus will be able to book a test at either location online and receive the results within 24 hours of the test being taken. Although Oxford University has committed to maintaining medical confidentiality throughout the process, those who test positive may be asked to voluntarily disclose their recent contacts as part of the track and trace protocol.

Several new policies have also been announced to reduce the risk of infection among students and staff during Michaelmas term. Cleaning regimes will be enhanced with new facilities open for hand-washing. Face coverings are to be required for both students and staff during in-person teaching and in shared indoor spaces. However, there will be exceptions on some grounds, such as disability.

Teaching, living, and research spaces will be adapted to allow for adequate social distancing. One-way signage, modified timetabling, and increased ventilation will be employed in all university sites. Capacity limits will be in place in university libraries. A new ‘seat-finder’ app will be introduced in order to make it easier for students to find available study spaces. In situations where social distancing is not always possible, such as laboratory work, the University plans to implement further protective measures such as Perspex screens.

Students living in college accommodation and sharing facilities will be grouped into ‘households’. In an email to students seen by Cherwell, Balliol College Master Helen Ghosh explained that the measure was intended to “minimise the number of students who have to self-isolate if any one of them gets COVID-19.”

In addition to these measures, the University has also pledged assistance students adversely affected by COVID-19 and its consequences. Welfare support will be available for students required to self-isolate during term or upon arrival to the UK from abroad. Students who are unable to take part in face-to-face teaching will be allowed continue learning online. Vulnerable staff will also be given the option to teach remotely if necessary.