FAO of the SRN Executive Council
CURRENT SITUATION (up to date as of 19 April 2021)
At the moment, in the UK we are riding out of the third wave of pandemic, which seems to be subsiding quite substantially, with numbers down to 1500-2000/day, although now that some restrictions have been lifted these are predicted to rise again in the forthcoming weeks.
Last week saw the enforcement of Step 2 of the so-called Roadmap out of lockdown, which can be summed up as per below:
- Only outdoor activities/hospitality venues/attractions have re-opened
- Working from home whenever possible still apply
- No accommodation (e.g. hotels)
- No catering services indoors
- No unnecessary travelling
- Universities have re-opened with limited activities (i.e. practice-based) and capacity • Gathering:
o No indoor gatherings (fines of up to £10,000)
o Only family/friends up to 6 outdoors
- Usual guidelines still apply:
o 2-metre social distancing
o Face covering
o Sanitising hands
However, the situation worldwide is still quite challenging.
In countries like Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Finland and Denmark, it seems to be fairly under control as it’s been for most of the past year.
There seems to be much improvement in other countries such as, for instance, Spain and Portugal. But it remains tough in the US and in most other European countries; and it is still dire in South America and quite a few other countries such as India (not all countries in the map supply up-to date data).
As known, the rollout of vaccination programmes has been seriously delayed in many countries and even implemented in different ways: for example, in the UK about 50% of the population has now received their first dose of the vaccine, but only about 15% have received the second dose as well. Comparing current data from the WHO, Johns Hopkins University, and BBC, very few of our delegates’ countries – e.g. the U.S., Chile, and the UAE – are doing fairly well with 23-29% of the population now fully vaccinated; most others (especially in Europe and South America, where 80% of our delegates come from) are lagging much behind (2-9% on average). The most optimistic predictions seem to converge towards the late Autumn/early Winter for vaccination programmes to reach significant results both on a local and global scale.
Travelling to England from outside the UK
While several countries are beginning the rush to open their doors to tourists, at the moment the “real” situation is as follows:
- Travel ban/no entry to the UK from countries on “red list” (i.e. the whole of South America, all countries in the Southern half of Africa, a few Asian countries, with India likely to be added soon as well)
o At the moment, this involves at least 13-15 delegates
- Passengers from ALL other countries are subject to mandatory test-and-quarantine rules (i.e. applies to ALL other non-UK resident delegates):
o Before you leave for the UK:
Take a Covid-19 test and get a negative result during the 3 days before you travel
Book a test-and-quarantine package (£1750 per person), which includes: • Accommodation in a managed quarantine hotel (if you do not have private accommodation)
o Throughout the whole duration of your quarantine, you
CANNOT leave your hotel room
- Two Covid-19 tests to be taken during quarantine
o If you test positive, you will have to stay longer
Complete the online passenger locator form (within 48 hours of departure) o On arrival in the UK:
Provide proof of a negative coronavirus test (only accepted in either English, French or Spanish) taken in your country
Quarantine/self-isolate for 10 days, either:
- In private accommodation (if you have one), or
- In a managed quarantine hotel
Take TWO Covid-19 tests on days 2 and 8 of quarantine (as per your booking)
- You can book and take an “early” test (called Test and release) to
end quarantining on Day 5, at extra cost (£220; rumoured to be reduced to £55 in the near future) via private providers
- Infringement of any of the above is considered a serious criminal offense and carries fines of up to £10,000 and imprisonment for up to 10 years
- Upon returning to your country:
o Most countries have enforced their own test-and-quarantine rules, which might apply when returning home in some cases
EXPECTED CHANGES IN MAY/JUNE
Step 3 of Roadmap out of lockdown (not before 17 May)
- Outdoor gathering and events of up to 30 people
- Events with up to 30 (does not specify whether indoor events are allowed; and if conferences are included in this category that so far includes weddings, funerals and similar)
- Indoor hospitality re-opens (e.g. hotels)
Travelling to England from outside the UK
- Rules will most likely switch to a “traffic light system”:
o Green: free entry/no restrictions subject to negative pre-departure test and subsequent negative PCR test (i.e. a swab of your mouth and nose) on Day 2 of your stay in the UK
At the moment, only a handful of countries are predicted to be given green status – as concerns our delegates, these will include only USA and Portugal o Amber: equivalent to current test-and-quarantine system
Most of our delegates’ other countries will be “amber”
o Red: equivalent to current “red list”, i.e. total ban/no entry
- In short, not much will actually change compared to the current situation Step 4 of Roadmap out of lockdown (not before 21 June)
- Plans to reopen all activities and events (including indoors)
- Travel traffic light system to be reviewed on 28 June and 31 July; while many hope this will mean even fewer restrictions, in fact predictions are for numbers to get worse in the weeks/months following re-opening of international travel and therefore said periodic reviews could end up tightening restrictions instead
- Full review of restrictions/guidance (including how long social distancing and face masks will remain in place)
- No specific dates are mentioned regarding the latter
- All the above depends on the outcome of “a scientific Events Research Programme to test the outcome of certain pilot events through the spring and summer, where we will trial the use of testing and other techniques to cut the risk of infection” (source: UK.gov, no further details available so far)
- All the above applies to the UK population, on the assumption that most will be vaccinated by the Summer
o Visitors from abroad attending events will still be subject to the traffic light system, and therefore test-and-quarantine where applicable unless restrictions are changed/lifted in June-July
To sum up, in the most optimistic scenario:
- If all the above goes according to plan, and
- If no new waves occur and/or no new variants emerge
It might be possible for IRL events such as SRN2021 to be “legally” allowed from July onwards.
A meeting with the Events Team at the conference venue (i.e. the Mathematical Institute) was held to assess all the above and viability of the conference based on available information and on the participation of many delegates from outside the UK.
In practical terms the most likely scenario in case we ran SRN2021 as normal, is as follows:
- Social distancing and face covering rules will still apply indoors at the venue and during the conference, regardless of whether new regulations will allow for some more flexibility • Social distancing rules will mean severely reduced maximum room capacity. More specifically:
o Main Lecture Theatre (used for plenaries and panels): from 250 to 55
o Other seminar rooms (used for panels): from 40 to 12-15
- In turn, this means having to reduce the maximum number of delegates to 55 • However, the cost of hiring the venue will remain the same and therefore registration fees are bound to be substantially higher than expected
- Only formal sessions possible: no additional social/networking activities can be planned • Catering:
o At the moment the venue’s supplier cannot guarantee service for large numbers o Assuming catering can be supplied, it will likely be in the form of individual pre packed parcels to be consumed and cost more
o Regardless of the above, at the moment the caterer is unable to provide a quote
- A hybrid solution is not financially viable: the venue does not have in-house capability for that and will have to hire an external company to handle the setup and live streaming – daily costs are from £1200+VAT and would add to existing running costs
The above considers the situation in situ in Oxford. Unfortunately, we still need to factor in a few more issues for delegates, especially those coming from abroad.
- While this might change in the forthcoming months, as things stand now most international delegates will very likely have to follow test-and-quarantine rules, with all the extra time and cost that this entail. Luckier delegates coming from “green-listed” countries will still have to take tests and if positive will have to quarantine as well.
- Virtually all universities in all countries currently enforce a ban on international travel that is likely to last till the end of the academic year – i.e. until August-October in the Northern Hemisphere, but until the end of 2021 in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Linked to the above is the freeze on funding for international travel. Budgets for this work according to deadlines of the academic year and therefore for most delegates this means funding won’t be available before September/Autumn in the most optimistic scenario.
- Also linked to the above ban, is travel and health insurance. Most delegates work for academic institutions and when they travel to attend conferences overseas they are covered by their work insurance. Until universities’ travel bans last, this means insurance cover is void if delegates decide to travel and attend the conference anyway and therefore they will have to purchase cover out of their pocket.
In light of the above, I conclude that, unfortunately, the conditions to run/host SRN2021 in Oxford safely as per plan are not met and, therefore, for the 2021 Annual Conference to be cancelled and be replaced by an “alternative online event” TBD ASAP as per discussions so far. To this purpose, pending the SRN Executive Council’s approval in today’s monthly meeting:
- I will announce the decision to the Membership on Tuesday 20 April;
- I will outline an “alternative online event” format to be presented to the Membership, possibly by the end of April – this will include alternative format(s) for paper panels and Q&As, keynote speakers and guests (where available and confirmed), virtual AGM, EC Elections and SRN Awards and will take into account time zones and limitations and/or advantages of available platforms (e.g. Zoom).
On a final, positive note, I can confirm that the School of Arts at Oxford Brookes University is still willing to provide minimum financial support (roughly £1300) to cover the cost of keynote speakers’ fees, SRN Awards and website subscription/hosting.
19 April 2021
SRN2021 Conference Director