University arrangements in light of latest government guidance
The University’s Silver COVID-19 response group has agreed that any international travel by Oxford staff and students must be approved by the Head of Department or Faculty Board Chair as exceptional in nature and for an essential purpose, where alternative approaches have been exhausted. For undergraduate and postgraduate students, this is likely to refer only to essential parts of a programme that are difficult to deliver other than by some study overseas. There must be a full risk assessment of how the activity will be conducted in a COVID-secure way overseas.
In accordance with University policies on fieldwork and overseas travel, a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is required for all international travel on University business. This must include consideration of the COVID-19 risk. There is a template available to assist departments in assessing the unique risks posed by the virus: OVERSEAS fieldwork COVID risk assessment template June 21. Please use this current updated version of the template. The primary consideration when planning for any travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is whether plans can be adapted to incorporate remote and online methods, which therefore replace or reduce the need for fieldwork or travel.
Other important factors to consider when preparing for travel are the entry requirements into the country and re-entry requirements back into the UK. Travellers must refer to Travel abroad and coronavirus (COVID-19) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Travellers may incur additional costs such as quarantine, PCR tests. They will need to identify how these costs will be met. Information on this can be found at FAQs for staff: FAQs for Staff and for students, Student visas and travel.
The COVID-19 risk assessment is to be completed alongside and in addition to existing departmental travel/fieldwork risk assessment forms, which cover other risks. Existing forms should be available from your department, if not please use the following: travel and fieldwork risk assessment template.
Risk assessment review by Safety Office and approval by Head of Department or Faculty Board Chair (HoD / FBC)
Safety Office review: The Safety Office must review risk assessments for travel to amber and red countries and countries/regions the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advises against travel to. Travel to green countries can be approved at departmental level without referral to the Safety Office (unless there is an FCDO advisory). When reviewing a risk assessment, the Safety Office will comment on whether the risk assessment is suitable and sufficient. This includes whether the risks outlined by the FCDO, and other significant risks associated with the travel, have been identified with appropriate mitigating measures in place to control those risks.
To ensure the review and approval process will be expedited departments should check risk assessments are suitable and sufficient, containing all relevant information, before submission to the Safety Office. Please refer to this example COVID-19 travel risk assessment which provides a good level of detail and evidences thorough, informed planning and arrangements. Please allow at least two weeks from submission for Safety Office review.
HoD/FBC approval: When making their decision on whether or not to approve the travel, the HoD/FBC must take account of the Safety Office comments on the risk assessment and consider whether the academic merits of the research/activity (in terms of achieving planned research and teaching aims) justify the residual risks once all the mitigating measures have been implemented. Information to assist HoD/FBCs in making their decision can be found in the HoD/FBC approval framework.
HoDs/FBC will only approve international travel where the following criteria are fulfilled:
- The travel is exceptional in nature and for an essential purpose, where alternative approaches have been exhausted.
- A risk assessment covering the COVID-19 risk and other significant risks has been undertaken.
- The supervisor has approved the risk assessment (for staff this may be the HoD/FBC).
- The Safety Office has reviewed the risk assessment and advised on its suitability, for amber and red countries and countries/regions the FCDO advise against travel to.
- It has been established how any additional costs, such as quarantine, PCR tests, will be met.
If these procedures are not followed, University travel insurance will be invalidated. Travellers are strongly advised to check the terms and conditions outlined Insurance website.
Given the rapidly changing global context, it is particularly important to keep risk assessments up to date; changes in a country’s status (which the UK government advises may happen at short notice) must be addressed and any action taken in line with official advice. Departments are also reminded to consider their contingency plans and protocols for dealing with repatriation or emergencies in the country.
Divisions are expected to have arrangements for the oversight of international travel during this time. This may include enhanced levels of approval for travel to ‘red list’ countries where deemed appropriate. HoD/FBC approval should be in accordance with these divisional arrangements.
Where staff/ students are already in country, or travelling from and to a different country, the restrictions on travel out of and into the UK do not apply; any proposed work should still be subject to a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, taking into account the FCDO advice on that country, and in country requirements . These risk assessments should be reviewed by the Safety Office and approved by the HoD/FBC in accordance with the traffic light and FCDO statuses.
Staff and students are strongly advised to take out University travel insurance. If there is a valid reason to take out their own personal insurance, then it is extremely important they still register their trip on TIRS (online Travel Insurance and Registration System) to ensure the University can track and trace them in the event of a major incident. Individuals will also need to check their personal insurance covers them for where they are going and what they are doing.
Careful consideration must be given by departments to the arrangements for ongoing monitoring of the health, safety and welfare of a member of staff/ student/ group of students whilst abroad and the country’s RAG status. This is especially important given that the RAG status of a country can change at short notice, and a change of status can introduce additional costs, e.g. for quarantine on return to the UK. Departments should consider how an instance or outbreak of COVID-19 is to be managed, key points of contact and sources of support, and clarity about the roles of the department and/or the college, as appropriate.
Where research involves in-person interactions with research participants CUREC guidelines should be followed COVID-19: CUREC guidance on research involving human participants | Research Support (ox.ac.uk) .
Staff planning to change their normal place of work to overseas should refer to Overseas working | HR Support (ox.ac.uk) and Overseas Working | Finance Division (ox.ac.uk)