Keeping you safe and well | University of Oxford
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Keeping you safe and well

Last updated: Friday 15 January 2021

Keep protecting yourself and the community

We all worked together to protect staff, students and the wider community from COVID-19 in Michaelmas term and we thank you for all you have done so far.

We now face a new variant of the virus which is more infectious than its predecessor, increasing the number of cases and placing unprecedented pressure on the NHS. To counter this threat a national lockdown has been implemented, with many students starting the term remotely.

Our health measures remain as applicable to the new variant as to the old. It’s vital that everyone who is in Oxford continues to follow the University’s health measures in the New Year to help keep us safe:

  • Keep your distance
  • Wash your hands
  • Wear a face covering (unless you’re exempt)
  • Got symptoms? Get a test
  • Contacted by track and trace? Stay at home.

We realise these measures have been in place for several months, but it’s really important that we all continue to follow all guidance in 2021.  This will help to protect your community, and reduce the length of a national lockdown, enabling students to return to Oxford.

You must follow these measures, even if you have already had COVID-19. You could still  be susceptible to catching the virus causing your household to be inconvenienced by having to self-isolate.

A small number of colleagues and relatives will receive the vaccine in the near future. However, it will be some time until the wider population is vaccinated, which means it’s essential to continue following the health guidance at this stage.

Don’t forget that support is available through the University and Colleges and the Oxford SU’s Student Advice.

COVID-19 testing at the start of Hilary term 

If you are coming back to live in Oxford after the Christmas vacation, you are very strongly advised to get tested for COVID-19. 
Your college will provide you with three Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests when you return to Oxford. 
This is incredibly important for stopping the spread of the virus. 
You should take the first test as soon as possible after you arrive back in Oxford, one three days later, and one more on your tenth day in Oxford. 
If you did not leave Oxford during the vacation, you should still take the tests at the same frequency, as soon as possible from the start of the year. 
If you do not take the tests, the Government advises that you should self-isolate for ten days on your return to university. 
For more information, please refer to the student coronavirus homepage

COVID-19 Student Responsibility Agreement

This academic year, all students are were to sign the COVID-19 Student Responsibility Agreement to affirm your commitment to protecting the health of everyone within the University, colleges and wider Oxford community.

The agreement outlines the new habits and adjustments that are needed in light of the pandemic, all of which are to enable academic and social activity to take place as safely as possible.

You must follow it whenever you are in Oxford.

These measures are essential for controlling the spread of COVID-19. Failing to adhere to them is likely to put the lives of vulnerable people at risk.

This includes fellow students with health conditions, teaching and support staff who you come into contact with, and the wider local community of which we are a part.

What to do if you develop COVID-19 symptoms

If you are in Oxford and develop COVID-19 symptoms, please follow the guidance below.

If you are at home, please refer to NHS and local guidance

1. Return to your accommodation

If you develop symptoms that could be coronavirus, return to your accommodation right away as COVID-19 is most infectious just after the onset of symptoms.


2. Book a test

You should book a test as soon as possible through the Testing for COVID 19: Early Alert Service.

The service is:

  • A dedicated testing service for all University students and staff
  • Managed in collaboration with the UK’s national health service, the NHS
  •  Free to access
  • There are two testing sites – one in central Oxford and one in Headington, with an online booking service available
  • Results will in most cases be available within 36 hours

Go to the Testing for COVID 19: Early Alert Service webpage to book. 

Important: if you receive a positive test result through another route (e.g. via the national NHS service), you must report your result by using the Report a Test button on the University's COVID testing page. 

When to book a test

The University has finite testing capacity, so it is important that we target it where it is most needed.

You should only book a test if you have any of the primary symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, persistent cough, loss of taste or smell).

Please do not book a test if you do not have any of the primary symptoms. 


3. Notify your college and department’s designated COVID-19 contacts

So that welfare support and alternative teaching and assessment arrangements can be put in place if needed. 

When you need to self-isolate

Prompt and effective self-isolation is a vital step in limiting transmission. It is very important that you self-isolate when asked to do so.

We know that self-isolation is not always easy, but there is support to help you

You need to self-isolate in the following instances:

  • If any member of a household has symptoms of COVID-19: all members of the household must self-isolate in line with NHS and government guidance (go to the NHS website to find out how long to self-isolate for).
  • While you wait for your test and results: you and the rest of your household must self-isolate until you have the results of your test. The University testing service will aim to provide results within 36 hours of the test.
  • If the result is positive: you and your household must continue to self-isolate (go to the NHS website to find out how long to self-isolate for) in case any members are also incubating the virus.
  • If one member of a household is identified as a close contact of a confirmed case but is asymptomatic: only that member needs to self-isolate, and should socially distance themselves from other household members. They should only get a test if they develop symptoms. They should self-isolate for 10 days from the date of last contact with the confirmed case – even if they receive a negative test result.
    If they go on to develop symptoms, then at that point the whole household needs to self-isolate.

This flowchart provides more information about the process for testing and self-isolation (SSO required).

Notifying contacts

Containing the spread of the virus depends on responsible behaviour, and quickly notifying those who have been recent close contacts.

NHS Test and Trace

Formal contact tracing is carried out by NHS Test and Trace – whether you are tested through the University’s test service or the NHS.

If you test positive, you will be asked to provide a list of recent close contacts for tracing purposes.

NHS Test and Trace may then notify those contacts either by phone, or via the COVID-19 app that they need to self-isolate. The name of the individual with COVID-19 will not be shared.

In some cases the University will support this contact tracing.

Other actions you can take

In addition to NHS Test and Trace, there are additional steps you can take:

  • Inform those who you think might have been recent close contacts (see definition below)
  • Speak to your college (they will be notified along with your department if you get a positive case and may be able to support you in notifying others)

We all have a responsibility for stopping the spread of COVID-19.  Acting quickly will help reduce the spread of infection. 

Telling your contacts direct will mean they get the information as fast as possible, and it will not be anonymous, as it would be via Test and Trace.

You can ask your college or department to notify contacts anonymously on your behalf if you prefer.

What do I do if I’m told I may be a close contact?

If NHS Test and Trace contacts you, you must follow their instructions carefully.

If you are notified by an individual or by a college, you should consider whether you have been exposed to the virus and need to self-isolate.

Your college will be able to help you with this decision, and will provide support if you need to self-isolate.

Remember, you should only get a test yourself if you develop COVID-19 symptoms (see testing and self-isolation section above). 

How do you define 'close contact'?

You are likely to be considered a ‘close contact’ of someone who has tested positive (and therefore at risk of infection) if:

  • You have had face-to-face contact (e.g. a close conversation or a hug), or;
  • You have been within 1 metre, without face-to-face contact, for 1 minute or more; or
  • You have been less than 2 metres away from them for more than 15 minutes (over the course of a single day), particularly in an enclosed space.


  • The contact occurred any time from the two days before they experienced COVID-19 symptoms onwards

Please refer to this document for more information about identifying close contacts (SSO required) 

Why contact tracing is important

Among young people, as many as 80% of those with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic and will have no idea they have the virus - but they can still infect others.

Through contact tracing, people who have been exposed to the virus are alerted and can avoid unwittingly infecting vulnerable individuals.

Keeping your contact details updated

So that you can be contacted as quickly as possible, it is important that your mobile phone number is included in the Student Record. Please log in to Student Self Service and check your mobile number in the ‘my contacts information’ section is up-to-date. 

You should also be registered with a local doctors' surgery, and ensure your address and contact details are up-to-date on their systems.

NHS COVID-19 app

We encourage you to use the NHS COVID-19 app, which is available to download from Google Play and the Apple App Store.

What is the app?

The app includes a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing and local area alerts.

Venue check-ins

Public places such as shops, cafes and bars – as well as certain public parts of the University and colleges will be required to display QR codes for you to check-in to venues. Non-NHS app users will need to sign a register.

Important – testing and the app

The  app directs users to the NHS testing service. However, students who are in Oxford should always, where possible, use the  University’s own testing service instead. 

Support for health and wellbeing

We recognise that these are unsettling times and we will support the wellbeing of all students – regardless of their personal circumstances, or any disadvantage or disruption they may be facing as a result of COVID-19. 

Please refer to the welfare and wellbeing page to find out about the support that is available to you.

If you are an international student with a general question about healthcare arrangements, please refer to the new international students page on the Oxford Students website.

For more information about self-isolation, please refer to the colleges and accommodation page.

Face coverings

You are required to use face coverings across all University and college buildings as set out in the face coverings policy

Why face coverings matter

There is increasing evidence that wearing face coverings can reduce transmission of COVID-19, and is a helpful mitigation measure, particularly in higher risk areas like indoors and when socialising outside your household.

Tips for using face coverings effectively

  • Avoid the covering itself touching you or any surfaces once you have taken it off, and store reusable coverings in a plastic bag when finished: if you have the virus, your mask will be contaminated with virus particles, which will spread quickly over you and any surfaces you leave it on
  • Wash reusable face coverings after each use: either in your laundry according to the manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric, or by handwashing with soap that is suitable for handwashing items, and hot water
  • Wear a face covering at all times except when seated to eat - if you were infected you could be walking around breathing out virus all round the room!
  • Don’t touch the face covering and don’t put it on the table or bench – put it away in a bag or pocket. If you do have the virus (and remember you could be unaware that you do), it will be contaminated with virus particles that will spread to your fingers and then onto shared surfaces
  • Sanitise your hands directly before you eat, as you will have been touching items such as pay cards, face covering and bag.

Face covering exemptions

Please respect that some people are exempt from wearing a face covering. They may choose to wear a badge or sunflower lanyard to indicate this, but these are not compulsory.

The Disability Advisory Service has a small stock of transparent face coverings. Please contact them if you require others to wear these to support communication.

Protective measures in our facilities 

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all staff and students is paramount is why we will have introduced a range of measures to protect you when you are in University and College buildings. This includes:

  • Enhanced cleaning regimes, and additional facilities for increased hand washing
  • Spaces adapted to ensure social distancing and appropriate ventilation, with clear signage and markings
  • Additional measures such as Perspex screens and barriers in areas where social distancing is more difficult such as in laboratories
  • University libraries have enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures in place, with a ‘seat-finder’ app to find spaces in reading rooms
  • Face coverings are required during in-person teaching and in indoor shared spaces with exceptions being made for those students and staff with health conditions which mean they can’t wear them. Transparent face coverings are available. Go to the face coverings page for more information.

The University’s measures are informed by an expert advisory group made of Oxford clinical academics, as well as government guidance. We will follow UK government advice and make detailed contingency plans in case additional measures are required. More detail can be found on the University coronavirus health page.

If you (staff or student) receive a positive test result through a route other than the University Early Alert service (eg via the national NHS service), you must complete the form for reporting external coronavirus positive results, continue to self-isolate, and report your absence to your department and college. 

Please refer to the FAQs page if you need any more information about health measures. 

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