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In-person teaching to continue in Wales during ‘fire-break’ lockdown

Students in Wales asked to stay at term-time homes while in-person university classes continue

Universities in Wales have been told to keep providing face-to-face teaching, despite the country starting a two-week lockdown from Friday where homeworking is required wherever possible.

On 19 October, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford confirmed that a “fire-break” lockdown would come into force at 6pm on 23 October and last until 9 November. The number of Covid-19 cases in Wales rose by 4,127 between 9 and 15 October and the R number—the rate of infection—has crept up to between 1.1 and 1.4.

While people in Wales have been told to stay at home as much as possible, including for work, universities are still being asked to deliver blended learning, combining in-person and online teaching.

In updated guidance, the Welsh government explained that although cases of Covid-19 had “risen in the student population”, people were largely being infected “outside the teaching and learning environment”.

It also said that universities were “operating Covid-secure campuses and adhering to strict social distancing”, while Covid-19 cases among university staff “remain low”.

Despite being allowed to travel to campuses for face-to-face teaching, students have been told they should not go back to family homes during the two-week lockdown unless “absolutely necessary”. “We are asking all students living in Wales, and all our Welsh students living outside Wales, to help us keep Wales safe by not travelling between university and home,” the government said.

Tougher local restrictions are already in place in some Welsh cities, including Cardiff and Swansea. When restrictions came into force in these areas on 28 September, students in the cities were told to prioritise online learning. “If it is possible for you to access your education online, you should do so,” the Welsh government wrote at the time. “But if not, you can travel to university to access your education.” 

Commenting on the new guidance, Amanda Wilkinson, director of vice-chancellors’ body Universities Wales, said universities “have made adaptations to campuses to ensure they are safe, socially distanced environments” during the pandemic. “As well as being an important part of the learning experience, in-person teaching also provides university staff with opportunities to check in with students and support their wellbeing—something which is more important than ever in the current climate.”

University leaders “recognise the resilience shown by all students and we appreciate the efforts made by students to comply with restrictions”, Wilkinson added.