Covid-19: University of Portsmouth vice-chancellor Graham Galbraith unveils measures to keep students safe

THE city’s university chief has said they are ‘doing more than most hospitals’ to create a safe environment from Covid for students and staff.

By Neil Fatkin
Friday, 9th October 2020, 4:39 pm
Updated Monday, 12th October 2020, 10:24 am

With students officially returning this week (Monday October 5), professor Graham Galbraith made the statement as an increasing number of students across the country are being forced to self-isolate after contracting Covid and institutions in virus hot-spots such as Newcastle have had to abandon face to face teaching.

However Prof Galbraith hopes to avoid this scenario

He said: ‘Of course I am concerned about a potential outbreak but we are doing everything we reasonably can as we do not want a lockdown situation such as that being experienced in the north of the country.

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Markers to ensure students stick to the one way system. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘We are going to have to live with this virus for a considerable time but we need to balance the risk and make the university experience as safe as possible. We have been working closely with Portsmouth City Council and the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust to put measures in place to minimise any potential outbreaks.’

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The university has introduced mitigation measures including alarm-triggered temperature testing sensors as people enter buildings, the distribution of free masks, facilities operating at around a third of capacity and automatic hand sanitising points.

To maintain social distancing, all buildings are also marked with one-way systems with separate exit and entry points. The university was also one of the first in the country to introduce its own testing centre and aims to test 10 per cent of the university’s population every two weeks – around 300 people - to identify any potential outbreaks and to notify people who may be at risk of transmission.

A screening camera measures the temperature of student, Tarush Lalwani, 22, at the university library. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Staff will also be given free flu vaccinations while students can download an app to book time slots for facilities such as the library to avoid overcrowding.

Prof Galbraith added: ‘We are doing more than most hospitals and our university buildings are probably safer than almost any other buildings.’

The university have also confirmed they have plans in place should groups of students have to go into isolation as has been the case at other institutions.

Prof Galbraith said: ‘Any student who has to isolate will obviously need food and resources to live and we have all that in place. We also have plans in place for a greater emphasis on online learning should it be needed.’

While Portsmouth’s infection rate has remained low compared to hot-spots in the north, the vice-chancellor has disputed accusations that the mass migration of students is partially to blame for the recent upsurge in cases.

Prof Galbraith said: ‘The is a danger that young people become the subject of the blame game. Many young people have already seen their A-levels destroyed and it’s important to create some sense of normality so that their whole education is not blighted.

‘It would be disgraceful to further blight the future of our young people and the future of our country. I’m really proud of how our students who have been incredibly careful in their conduct.’

While the number of positive coronavirus student cases has increased to 106 – 26 of which were identified by the university’s own testing centre – students who spoke to The News generally felt safe about their return.

Dental hygiene therapy student, Zahraa Khameery, said: ‘I’m really happy to be back and feel very safe to be here. The university has put a lot of measures in place but as a dental academy we already had very good infection control.

‘While there are some practical tasks we can’t do the simulations really help.’

Pharmacology student, Dazel Austria, 22, added: ‘I feel safe. Everyone in the library was wearing masks and there was a two metre gap between students.’

While masters in crisis and disaster management student, Jenny Foden, 22, agreed with Prof Galbraith about the national decision for students to return to universities she did concede that students were already seeing the impact of rising cases.

Jenny said: ‘I feel it was the right thing to do as it would be unfair for young people not to be able to to come to university but there will obviously be some outbreaks. My friends live in a shared house and they all have Covid and are currently having to self-isolate.’

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