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The University has moved into its "red" phase in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. All University staff, except those needed for business-critical activity, are now working remotely. Please contact us by email until further notice.

Department of Biochemistry

 
The Hopkins Building, Department of Biochemistry.

Almost a week has gone by since the Department and University engaged a full lock down. It is difficult to believe that such an eventuality felt unthinkable only a week earlier. That seems a long time ago now.

I hope you are all managing in your various homes and are following the government instructions not to venture out more than is absolutely necessary. That is the only way we can pause the infection rate and spread it over a sufficient amount of time to not wipe out our health service.

Nonetheless, I am especially concerned about those who are far from home and whose families reside in other parts of the world. International travel is now almost impossible, so I guess most of our international colleagues must remain in the UK for the duration – however long that might be. I understand how stressful this is for all concerned, but at least many of us have access to various internet-based forms of communication. Right now, I find just keeping track of which application – WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, Teams, Zoom, Instagram, House Party (OK, I've not tried that last one!) – to use with which relative/friend/work group is daunting enough.

The forced transition from mobile and socially active lifestyles to sedentary and very limited social interaction is hard on us all – it is unnerving and its impact cumulative. At least the weather has been clement thus far, so I hope everyone who can is taking the hour's exercise outside and is enjoying the sunshine. After the dark Northern European winter, it is a good idea to get some limited sun exposure while you can and build up your vitamin D reserves to potentiate your adaptive and innate immunity.

 

Green, Amber and Red?

You may have heard last week of the University's transition from its normal status of 'Green' through to 'Amber' and finally to 'Red' in response to the COVID-19 crisis. This 'RAG' classification is derived from traffic lights where 'Green' signifies all is going well and is progressing as planned; 'Amber' indicates the existence of potential issues for which assistance or special measures might be needed; 'Red' indicates the existence of exigent problems that require urgent attention to stabilise and/or resolve them.

The University's Emergency Management Plan (UEMP) operates at an institution-wide level and is devolved into various teams that cover Strategic (Gold), Tactical (Silver) and Operational (Bronze) matters. This organisation mirrors that used in local and national emergency services.

The Department of Biochemistry, like all other institutions in the University of Cambridge, has its own devolved Emergency Action Plan in the form of its Silver Team, ably and calmly chaired by our Departmental Administrator, Nick Smith. The Silver Team has performed brilliantly and continues to meet weekly to monitor the status of the Department's infrastructure, maintain necessary supplies and services (such as liquid N2 and He, and maintenance of essential equipment that cannot be simply shut down) and a minimum support staff, and support the small number of investigators who have requested a little time to finish off specific experiments. Aside from these individuals, I am afraid that access to the Department is not possible.

 

Doing our part

Last week (Wednesday 18th March), the School of Biological Sciences and its constituent departments were alerted by the University Clinical School of the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – masks, gloves and other like consumables – for use by Addenbrooke's Hospital. A call was raised to all School departments to search their respective stores and send as much to the Hospital as possible.

With our large joint Stores facility and own delivery team, Biochemistry and Pathology offered to co-ordinate collections and an amazing project team was pulled together under the leadership of Geoff Smith (HoD Pathology), Nick Smith (DA Biochemistry), Alison Gelder (BioPath Stores Manager) and Tom Smith (Pathology Finance). In a remarkable piece of organisation and coordination, we managed to ship a sizeable quantity of masks on day one, followed by a full consignment of PPE shipped the following Monday (23rd March) in a very full vehicle driven by Richard Harris. With the expert help of other Stores Team members, Leon Bailey, John O'Toole, Anton Santolaya and Luke Wilson, we have to date shipped nearly 1000 boxes of gloves, cases of lab coats, 500 pairs of safety specs, and sundry other items.

Other donations were sent directly from School departments, for which particular thanks go to Plant Sciences (Marcus Armstrong) and Zoology (Ian Goldstone). Donations are still coming in with a consignment promised from the Sainsbury Laboratory (Adam Rodgers) on Wednesday 25th March. A final delivery is scheduled for Friday 27th March.

I want to extend my utmost thanks for this superbly organised operation, driven by great passion and commitment to help our fellows. And thanks to so many members of the Department for their support in this initiative – both physical and moral.

 

My major concern during this indefinite period of isolation is that our community will become distanced – we will lose contact with our friends and colleagues in the Department, University and Cambridge. To start addressing this, we plan to set up a noticeboard/community site where people can share their experiences during this unprecedented period. I will get back to you all with further information on this as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, stay safe and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

With all best wishes,

Gerard

Image

The Hopkins Building, Department of Biochemistry.

Credit: University of Cambridge.

Author

Professor Gerard Evan,
Head of Department and Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry

Publication date

27 March 2020