Exclusive: 25-person cap on college events at start of term and Winter Congregation postponed as University reacts to Omicron wave

By and

Colleges have been told to cancel large events in a University bid for a ‘soft start’ to the new year amid record UK Covid-19 case levels. 2021 graduates will now be awarded their degree in absentia as Winter Congregation on 6th and 7th January has been postponed.

Until week commencing 24th January, the University plans to implement a 25-person cap on indoor college events, Palatinate can reveal. Many refreshers’ week events including formals are likely to be cancelled or postponed in the first two weeks of term, but college bars are expected to remain open.

The proposed measures go significantly beyond current government guidance, which only requires that a negative LFT or a vaccine pass be presented at large events.

JCRs were informed of the plans early this week, but were told to keep them confidential, and the University is yet to inform students of the ‘soft start’ approach.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community are always our first priority”

Durham University

The University previously indicated in an all-student email on 3rd December that following the University Executive Committee’s review, “all existing measures will remain in place” at the start of next term. 

The email also said that “any future adjustments to our Covid-controls will be staggered, and we will assess the impact at each stage”.

Meanwhile, Durham University has confirmed that the Winter Congregation ceremony, due to be held on January 6th and 7th 2022 will be postponed as a result of “ongoing Covid-19 uncertainties”. The University is yet to confirm alternative dates for the event, but has announced that degrees will be awarded in absentia on 7th January and that a short video will be recorded to mark the occasion. 

Graduates from 2020 are yet to have an in-person ceremony, currently scheduled for late March 2022 after previous postponements

A University spokesperson told Palatinate: “Due to continuing Covid-19 uncertainties, including the new Omicron variant and Government measures introduced to help control its spread, like other universities we have taken the difficult decision to postpone the Congregation ceremonies planned for January 2022. 

“We have communicated with all affected students and we share their disappointment that we are unable to celebrate together at this time.”

The University did not address plans for a ‘soft start’ to term in correspondence with Palatinate, but noted with regard to the pandemic, that “the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community are always our first priority”.

Image: Thomas Tomlinson

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