Coronavirus: University teaching to move online from 9 December

Universities in Northern Ireland are to move all teaching online by 9 December to allow students to return home for Christmas.

Students have also been advised to take a Covid-19 test before they return to their family home.

testing is being offered to students
at Queen’s and Ulster Universities.

The Christmas guidance for students in Northern Ireland was published by the executive on Friday.

Many students were already learning remotely as many degree courses were being taught online, although thousands remain on campus.

Face-to-face teaching has continued in some subjects where it is regarded as necessary.

A small number of those courses may be able to continue to hold classes on campus after 9 December.

But students have been told that if they remain on campus after 9 December they may be in a situation where they have to self-isolate over Christmas.

Rapid Covid-19 testing is available for students at Queen’s University’s main campus and the Magee and Coleraine campuses of Ulster University.

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Queen’s has been offering testing to students

“This will reduce the risk to your friends and family,” the new guidance said.

“These tests are only suitable if you do not have any symptoms of Covid-19.

“If you have Covid-19 symptoms must book a coronavirus test in the normal way.

“If you remain at university after 9 December you are at risk of having to undertake a period of isolation if you contract Covid-19 or are identified as a close contact of a confirmed case.

“This would result in you being unable to travel home in time for Christmas.

“All students should aim to reduce their social contacts during the 14 day period prior to their intended travel date.”

Thousands of
Northern Ireland students at universities elsewhere in the UK
have begun to return home for the Christmas break.

Some may not return to university until February as
start dates for the new term have been staggered

But it is still not clear what arrangements for the start of the term of the university term in January will be in place in Northern Ireland.

‘Students deserve better’

While the guidance on Christmas travel has been welcomed by the National Union of Students and Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI), its president Ellen Fearon has criticised the absence of a plan for January.

“It is now crucial that the government turns its attention to semester two by developing a national strategy to support students through the rest of this pandemic and creating clear guidance for the higher education sector,” she said.

“Students who are making plans to travel home need to know now what their studies in January will look like so that they can decide where the best place is for them to continue their studies.

“Students deserve better than a repeat of a chaos and confusion we saw in September.”

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Boston University Weekly COVID-19 Report: November 25 to December 1 | The Brink

Extra COVID-19 tests urged for everyone as cases surge from Thanksgiving

Now that Boston University is publishing its COVID-19 testing data on a public-facing dashboard, Gloria Waters, BU vice president and associate provost for research, and Judy Platt, director of BU Student Health Services, are providing a weekly update on the overall health of the BU community.

“We knew this was going to happen—we expected this,” Judy Platt says. 

Boston University’s Clinical Testing Lab is detecting a fresh uptick in coronavirus cases linked to Thanksgiving travel. Between November 25 and December 1, 46 students tested positive for coronavirus, as well as 28 faculty and staff. On December 1 alone, 26 members of the BU community received positive test results.

“It’s so critical now, during this surge, for people to be as forthcoming as possible,” Platt says. “When the call comes in from contact tracing, we need people to answer quickly and disclose all their contacts. We still have the ability to control this.”

Platt says BU’s contact tracing is seeing many cases associated with Thanksgiving travel. “Most of the close contacts being reported are people from outside of BU residential households,” she says. People who traveled for Thanksgiving likely spent time with people outside their typical household, and may have not been wearing masks—especially during a holiday full of eating and drinking.

“We want to stress the importance of wearing a mask,” Gloria Waters says. “If you’re taking off your mask around other people, that’s most likely how you’re going to end up getting infected or infecting others.”

Waters says students should make sure their Learn from Anywhere status is current so BU can properly calculate the campus community’s compliance with its coronavirus surveillance program. 

This week, everyone at BU is being asked to take an extra coronavirus test in an effort to identify positive cases early and isolate the infected. Undergraduates, who typically test twice per week, should seek out three tests per week. Graduate students, faculty, and staff should increase their weekly test by adding one more, for a total of two. Even Category 4 students, who do all of their schoolwork remotely and are not typically tested regularly, are asked to come to campus to take a coronavirus test to help quell the spread of the virus among off-campus student households.

“We’re offering testing to Category 4 students and already more than 750 of them have come in to get tested since Thanksgiving,” Waters says. “That option is still available for fully remote students.”

Waters is also encouraging BU faculty and staff who work in research laboratories to be extra vigilant about following COVID-19 protocols. She says anyone who sees safety issues in the lab—people not wearing masks, not maintaining social distance, or other issues—should report those concerns to a PI, lab head, or department chair.

Although 56 students are currently in isolation housing with active cases of coronavirus, Platt says BU is in a good position to accommodate more cases if they should

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Jupiter and Saturn to form ultra-rare ‘double planet’ this December

Winter solstice is around the corner and with it comes a rare and spectacular phenomenon in the night sky.

On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will align to form a “double planet,” an occurrence that hasn’t happened in nearly 800 years, according to Deborah Byrd and Bruce McClure with Earth Sky.

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You may have already noticed the sky seems a little brighter these last few weeks. That’s because from Nov. 16 to 21, the two planets started their journey bringing them some three degrees apart, according to Byrd and McClure.

From now until the day of the conjunction, “Jupiter will travel about 6 degrees and Saturn 3 degrees on the sky’s dome. That movement will mean that Jupiter bridges the 3-degree gap between itself and Saturn,” according to the Earth Sky authors, causing a “great conjunction” that won’t be matched again until March 15, 2080.

It’s the first meeting of the two planets since 2000, but the closest Jupiter-Saturn conjunction since 1623.

Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions are considered the rarest of “bright-planet conjunctions” due to their slow movements. “Saturn takes nearly 3o years to go around the sun full circle whereas Jupiter takes nearly 12 years,” according to the Earth Sky authors.

This movement, in turn, is what causes Jupiter to “catch up” to Saturn, making for a picturesque view from Earth.

While this year has been full of unprecedented events, the night skies have given us some pretty amazing views of unusual sightings. We’ve witnessed a rare blue moon on Halloween, Leonid meteor showers, and now the showstopper of them all: the “great conjunction.”

So grab your telescope or just step out into the night air from now until December 21 to witness the eye-catching event each night as Jupiter and Saturn shine brightly among the stars.

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December Sky Events To Look Forward To


  • December is packed with exciting sky events
  • The 14th will feature a meteor shower and a total solar eclipse
  • A very special conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn will also happen this month

Skywatchers are in for a treat this December. From a total solar eclipse to the rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, December is sure to give them a reason to look up.

Geminid Meteor Shower

From the evening of Dec. 13 to the morning of Dec. 14, what NASA described as “one of the best meteor showers of the year” will peak. As the agency explained, 2020 is a good year to observe the Geminids, which could showcase 140 to 150 visible meteors per hour.

With clear skies and ideal conditions, skywatchers should be able to observe the Geminids throughout the night since its peak is quite broad, NASA said. What’s more, there will be no interference from the moonlight because it also coincides with the new moon phase.

Total Solar Eclipse

At 11:17 a.m on the same day, Dec. 14, there will also be a total solar eclipse. This time, the event will be visible from the southern Pacific, Chile, Argentina, the coast of Africa and across the southern Atlantic, NASA said.

From these locations, skywatchers will see the sun being completely blocked out by the moon for a little over two minutes. A partial solar eclipse will also be visible in parts of southern South America and Antarctica. There, the moon will only appear to partially block the sun.

Although certain restrictions will likely prevent the more eager skywatchers from traveling to South America to watch the total solar eclipse live, there will surely be various livestreams that will allow people to witness the event as it unfolds.

The Great Conjunction Of Jupiter And Saturn

Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer to each other than the diameter of the moon starting Dec. 17, NASA said, but the two giants will appear nearest to one another on Dec. 21. Called the Great Conjunction of the two planets, they will appear as close together as a fifth of the apparent diameter of the moon on the 21st.

As EarthSky explained, Jupiter and Saturn meet up in the sky about every 20 years, but this year’s event will be the closest Jupiter-Saturn conjunction since 1623.

Skywatchers can catch a stunning view of this event, whether they use a telescope or simply marvel at it with the naked eye. 

December Solstice

The December solstice will also be on Dec. 21, marking the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere but the first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

According to NASA, this winter solstice day will have the shortest sunlight period of the year at just 9 hours, 26 minutes and 13.5 seconds.

Ursids Meteor Shower

The Ursids meteor shower will grace the skies on the evening of the 21st until the morning of the 22nd, Sea and Sky said. This evening is expected to have

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