Omicron variant: Durham City and University respond

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The University and venues across Durham City are responding to a potential new wave of Covid-19 infections in the region, following the identification of the Omicron variant, which is causing a fresh wave of infections nationally.

In Durham City, 49 people tested positive for Covid-19 in the week ending 12th December. This is an increase of 25 cases from the previous week according to the Government’s Covid-19 data. This means Durham City has a case rate of 333.5 per 100,000 people, which is lower than the national average at this time. On Tuesday, County Durham saw its first confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

HMP Durham has placed one of its wings into lockdown

The rise in Covid-19 cases and the prevalence of the Omicron variant have sparked concern across the City and University.

People attending some services at Durham Cathedral this Christmas will be asked to book a ticket online if they wish to attend in-person, and be prepared to show proof of double vaccination or evidence of a negative LFT result taken within 48 hours of the service.

The Church of England’s official stance is that it opposes “limiting access to church services or organisations on the basis of vaccine certification”. The Rev Jamie Franklin accused the Cathedral of being “at odds with the Christmas message” in an open letter to Boris Johnson, but the Cathedral insists that the measures aim to “minimise risk and reduce the pressure on NHS services”.

HMP Durham has placed one of its wings into lockdown following a rise in Covid-19 cases among the prison population. A Prison Service spokesperson said that these were “precautionary measures” in line with public health guidance, with prisoners affected still able to take showers and exercise despite the lockdown.

There are indications that some in-person events could soon be restricted by the University

Meanwhile, in an email sent to students on December 16th, the University confirmed that they were “tracking and managing increasing numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases” which include “confirmed cases of the Omicron variant”.

The University has urged students to take LFT tests before leaving Durham and to continue to follow the latest government guidance. They also encouraged students to book a booster vaccination as soon as they become eligible.

The email also reassured students that a “high-quality residential experience”, including “substantial in-person teaching and learning” would continue into Epiphany term.

However, there are indications that some in-person events could soon be restricted by the University. In a Palatinate exclusive, it was revealed that colleges have been instructed to limit capacity at their events to just 25 people for the first two weeks of Epiphany term, as part of an alleged “soft start” approach taken by the University. As of now, students have not received formal notification from the University about these measures.

The 2022 Winter Congregation in January has also been postponed, with this year’s graduates now expected to receive their degree in absentia, due to “continuing Covid-19 uncertainties”.

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