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    Oxford City Council announces measures for return of students

    Estelle Atkinson reports.

    The City Council has announced its plans to welcome back university students after restrictions on student returns this past year have left the city “strangely empty.”

    Councillor Susan Brown, leader of Oxford City Council, said: “Oxford is looking forward to having students back and feeling that life is returning to normal. I want to thank both our universities for the huge contribution that they made as institutions and as individuals (staff and students) to our ability to tackle the pandemic on a local, national and international level.”

    While acknowledging that the risks presented by covid are lowered by the increased vaccination rates of both the student and local populations, the Council says both universities will continue to take steps to reduce the risks associated with COVID-19. 

    The City Council has listed six main measures to be taken. One measure will be encouraging students to take up their vaccine appointments as soon as possible, ideally before returning to university. Additionally, pop-up vaccination centers will be provided at both universities for students still in need of their vaccine. 

    Students will also be encouraged to get tested before arriving at university and to continue to test twice a week throughout the term. Symptomatic PCR tests will be available on site at both universities. Health guidance such as the use of face coverings, testing, and self isolation where necessary will continue to be issued to staff and students. 

    The Council is also announcing that many larger lectures will continue to take place online, while smaller teach sessions can go ahead in person providing appropriate safety measures are observed. 

    Local businesses in particular are posed to enthusiastically welcome back the student population, as the city saw a drop in tourism over this past summer. Councillor Susan Brown explained: “for local residents, it will take us a little time to adjust to the city filling up again, as it did when we started to emerge from lockdown. But in a city built around university education, the return of student life is an essential step towards normality –and very important for our local economy.”

    The City Council also hopes that students will volunteer within the community, particularly aiding with food charities. Students will hopefully reengage with local arts and culture projects as well as sports and physical activities. 

    Specific advice issued for international students is to continue to follow the same quarantine rules as any other overseas arrivals, with those coming from red list countries to formally quarantine in hotel accommodation before returning to university. However, universities will be posed to offer these students more specific support. Both universities are set to provide extra welfare support to help students. 

    The City Council believes that the community has made progress managing covid, with more than 85% of adults over 50 in Oxford having received both vaccines. Case rates in Oxford are reportedly “around the national average.”

    Ansaf Azar, Oxfordshire Director of Public Health, has said: “cases in Oxfordshire are on the increase in line with the picture we are seeing across the rest of the country, and we expect numbers to increase further with the return of schools and universities.”

    One notable change this term is that there are no legal restrictions on indoor socializing, group sizes, or outdoor gatherings. Any “anti-social” behavior will be dealt with “in the normal way,” in accordance with standard university policies. 

    Councillor Susan Brown said “The pandemic is not over but we are in a better place. We will continue to work with both universities to make sure we are ready to respond as needed if circumstances change. We now have good systems in place if we need to adapt.” Both universities have commented on the Council announcement.

    Gillian Aitken, Registrar of the University of Oxford, said: “we are looking forward to the next academic year with most of our students back in Oxford. While the pandemic is not yet over, we are hopeful that this year will be less disrupted for everyone than the previous 18 months. Our new health campaign sets out the behaviors we expect of our students and staff; helping to reduce the risks of COVID-19 to the community as we look forward to studying and working on site.” 

    Professor Anne-Marie Kilday, Pro Vice-Chancellor student and Staff Experience at Oxford Brookes University, said: “We have been planning in detail for the return of students to Oxford in September, and are confident that we will continue to protect the health and safety of the local community, our staff and students. Even though life is opening up, we remain vigilant, continuing with some safety measures such as face coverings, and online teaching for larger groups.

    “We also have high expectations of our students in terms of their behaviour, and will be writing to all residents in areas largely populated with Oxford Brookes students, reminding them of our procedures.”  

    Councillor Susan Brown said: “to new and returning students – welcome back to our city. I hope you will enjoy your time here, grow to love our beautiful city and get the most out of the fantastic educational opportunities that are open to you. Please do keep safe and respect other people.”

    Image: Nils Lindner via unsplash.com

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