Old School's and Senate House lit in blue to support NHS staff (30/04)

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Catch up on Covid-19-related developments that happened in Cambridge in March and April on our previous live blogs.

Read our coronavirus live blog for June here.

In Cambridge in May:

Sunday 31st May 4:53pm 

A London-based charity founded by Pembroke College students in 1885 has been transformed into an Emergency Food Hub during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Pembroke House, which is ordinarily a centre which supports access to education, arts and sports, will hold a live event on Tuesday 2nd June at 6.30 pm. Viewers will be able to follow the charity’s food distribution and watch interviews with the charity’s volunteers.

With the help of 120 volunteers, Pembroke House has distributed 30 tonnes of food to people in the Walworth area of South London by the end of May.

Fill in this form to join the event.

Tuesday 26th May 8:54pm 

Cambridge political societies and MPs have reacted to this weekend's row over Dominic Cummings' journey to Durham in March.

MP for South Cambridgeshire, Andrew Browne, has repeatedly expressed support for Cummings, despite growing criticism from the public, media and other Conservative MPs over the weekend. Meanwhile, Varsity has found audio in which Browne previously criticised those who have flouted social distancing guidelines, calling on "people in public positions [to] display behaviour in a way that they expect the broader public to."

Cambridge University's political societies have also contributed to the debate. Read the full story here.

Friday 22nd May 6:49pm 

Cambridge University Student's Union (CUSU) has cancelled the University-wide Freshers' Fair which was due to be held on 6th and 7th October.

CUSU will instead launch a virtual Freshers' programme which 'will still enable Sports Clubs & Societies to showcase their activities and connect with prospective members.'

A statement explains that the organisers 'feel it is in the best interests' of members 'to cancel plans for an in-person event' as they will be 'unable to guarantee adequate social distancing measures' at the venue.

As well as the virtual event, CUSU are provisionally planning an in-person 'Refreshers' Fair' for January 2021.

Friday 22nd May 10:09am 

A statement signed by the Heads of Cambridge colleges has emphasised that they are 'determined' to do their 'best to bring the colleges and university back to life' in the next academic year. The statement has been published in The Times today.

The statement is in response to concern in recent days about 'headlines around the world making the claim that Cambridge will be moving entirely online next year.'

These misinformed headlines followed Varsity's report, which broke the news that lectures will be online next year whilst smaller-scale teaching, including seminars and practicals, will be held in-person.

The statement, which is signed by the Master's and President's of Cambridge's 31 colleges, as well as the Principal of Ridley Hall, states that Cambridge's 'strength is that so much student activity takes place in colleges, from small group teaching and pastoral care to music and sport.'

It continues in stating that colleges 'will always take the latest public health advice and clearly there will be challenges in providing this in the next academic year. Online lectures will make a key contribution.' 

However, colleges will seek to resume 'intensive in-person learning in the traditional locations and the widest possible range of activities'.

Friday 15th May 8:47pm  

It has been recently reported that the death toll in Cambridgeshire hospitals has seen its highest recorded increase in a 24 hour period. 

11 people have died, making this the week's highest daily increase. 342 people have now died from the virus, as reported by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, West Suffolk and North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust. 

The 11 deaths recorded were those of patients in local hospitals. The overall figure has not been released.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has reported a total of 112 deaths, and from Monday to Thursday, recorded one death per day, marking a momentary decline. 

Friday 15th May 10:31am

A Cambridge epidemiology student has taken has taken to Instagram to offer graphic, simplified explainers of the coronavirus to the wider world.

Charlotte Milbank, a joint geography and epidemiology student at Jesus College, has been operating the Epidummyology page since mid-March after starting it “on a whim after my sister repeatedly asked me to break down and clarify things that she and her friends were hearing in the news about the outbreak.”

 After growing “increasingly frustrated with the volume of misinformation circulating about Covid-19 and the many ‘experts’ contributing to media” Charlotte “felt there was a need to break down the epidemiological science behind the pandemic and behind the policy decisions being made into a format that was easy to digest (and accurate) for the unfamiliar reader”.

And despite being set up “initially for a specific and small audience – as my own lockdown project” engagement has so far been very promising “including some well-known names in the medical field.” 

“The questions keep coming too, and it’s nice to be able to address these.”

Charlotte’s PhD research examines the implications of the coronavirus outbreak in northern India in forest-dwelling communities. She says “these communities often consume ‘wild foods’, including bushmeat, which is becoming increasingly demonised as we speculate on the zoonotic origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Her time is also occupied “helping with modelling the pandemic in parts of Uganda, as well as completing a study on norovirus infection within UK hospitals and identifying risk factors for hospital-acquired infection”.

Sunday 15th May 7:52pm 

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has criticised Boris Johnson's latest lockdown briefing as a "mess."

Zeichner said: "they’ve dropped 'stay at home' in favour of a woolly 'stay alert' message. I know precision doesn’t come easily to Boris Johnson but we are dealing with a public health crisis and we need absolute clarity from government."

He added: "We need a grown-up conversation with parliament, scientists and the trade unions" rather than "meaningless sloganising from a prime minister who is out of his depth".

Sunday 15th May 2:07pm 

Professor David Spiegelhalter, from the University's Mathematics Faculty, has again raised concern about the Government's communication to the public about Covid-19.

Spiegelhalter, who is Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University, decried Government communication on Covid-19 as "embarrassing."

In the interview with Andrew Marr this morning, Spiegelhalter described the daily press briefings as a "number theatre" in which there is "not trustworthy communication of statistics."

He believes that the briefings are "led by a Number 10 communications team rather than genuinely trying to inform people about what's going on".

Friday 8th May 11:57am 

The University Library lit up blue last night (07/05) as part of the nationwide Clap for Carers, which recognises and thanks key workers for their ongoing work during the pandemic. 

Thursday 7th May 5:09pm 

The University has outlined four scenarios for how it may respond to the impact of the pandemic.

In an email sent to all students and staff this afternoon, Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope outlined what he emphasised are 'scenarios not forecasts'. Toope explained that 'rather than predictions, the scenarios offer a framework for our planning and decision-making.'

The first 'rapid recovery' scenario assumes the availability of anti-viral treatments by the Autumn and a vaccine within 18-24 months. In this scenario, the University intends to open labs in June and allow students to return in Michaelmas 2020, 'under strict social distancing rules.'

Under the 'extended lock-down' scenario, if the Government enhances restrictions to halt the pandemic, there will be 'no students in Cambridge for 2020/21'. Teaching will be online and there will be 'opportunities for research and development in universities.'

Under the 'repeated waves' scenario, which prepares for the possibility that lockdown measures will be eased and re-introduced, the University is planning to allow students to return to Cambridge in Michaelmas, albeit with social distancing measures. There would be some 'research activity continuing in a limited capacity.'

The 'global gloom' scenario, which anticipates ongoing health and economic problems, in addition to extended lockdowns, there will be no students in Cambridge in 2020/21. Education will move online and research will be 'focused on short-term problem solving.'

Toope added that 'in reality, we will probably experience a mix of the circumstances envisaged in different scenarios'.

Which students would be able to return under the first or third scenario has not yet been clarified. It is unclear whether there would be any distinction between home and international students or undergraduate/taught Master's students and research postgraduates. Last week, The Sunday Times (03/05) reported that universities were considering allowing science students back before those studying arts-related subjects.

Wednesday 6th May 10:05pm 

Sir David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, asked the Prime Minister in a tweet earlier tonight to stop quoting him as evidence that international comparisons should not yet be used.

This comes after Boris Johnson cited Professor Spiegelhalter's piece, published in the Guardian last week, in the House of Commons today. Johnson went on to insist that there would be a time to look at what where the UK's response could have been better in the future.

Tuesday 5th May 4:33pm 

Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, has released a statement on the government’s handling of coronavirus after official figures revealed that more than 32,000 people have died from the virus. 

The figure means the UK now exceeds Italy, which stands at 29,029, as the European country with the highest number of recorded deaths from Covid-19.  

In a press release issued today Zeichner said “this is a sombre moment for reflection but it is clear part of the blame was because the government was slow on going into lock down, slow on testing and slow on protective equipment. Crucially they appear not to have listened and learned the lessons from other countries.”

“Months ago, I was certainly getting increasingly panic-stricken emails from constituents with links to Italy and other places where the virus struck earlier. So I now urge the government, once again, to listen to voices from around the world, rather than attempt to go it alone."

“On contact tracing, on testing, on PPE, on exiting the lock down: there is advice we can take from around the globe. Every life lost is a tragedy and we cannot wait until the crisis is over to learn lessons, we must fight to save as many lives as we can now."

Senior medical advisors, such as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harris, have warned against straight comparisons between different countries pointing to the difficulties in calculating death rates. However, some of the government’s own advisors have offered their view that the UK has not handled coronavirus very effectively. 

Professor David Spiegelhater, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said “we are not doing very well and it’s been another very bad week [...], there’s no denying that these are really serious numbers”.

Monday 4th May 9:54am 

The Government has refused a multi-billion pound bailout which was requested by university leaders to compensate for losses in revenue from international students.

Instead, the government support package for the Higher Education sector, which was announced today, will allow institutions to charge full tuition fees for online courses. The package also ensures that £2.6 billion in tuition fee payments will be paid early, to help universities. 

While face-to-face contact is suspended because of the pandemic, Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, commented that full tuition fees will be charged for online courses if the "quality is there."

On top of the £2.6 billion in tuition fees paid early, the government announced £100 million in funding will be targeted at research activities. 

Universities will also be eligible to apply for other government support packages, including business loan support schemes. 

Institutions will be able to use existing funds from across April and May, amounting to £46 million, for hardship funds. 

Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, welcomed the package but stressed that it "does not deliver the protection or stability that students, staff and communities they serve so desperately need."

She continued: "Instead of kicking the can down the road, the government must underwrite funding lost from a fall in domestic and international student numbers and remove incentives for universities to compete against each other at a time when we need to be pulling together."

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