Coronavirus: Information for researchers

General

The crisis management team is observing the increasing number of new infections with SARS-CoV-2 after the current easing of restrictions with concern and calls on all employees to do their part to prevent the situation from escalating through their behavior at work and in their private lives.

The danger of SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been eliminated in our society, and local sources of infection that could spiral out of control also pose a realistic threat to the University of Bern and our surroundings. For this reason, the research sector still needs to be careful and responsible when planning activities and to adhere to general and specific protection concepts.

It is important that research activities that require a physical presence at the university should only be carried out under clearly defined conditions and increased vigilance with regard to the spread of the virus.

Through their responsible behavior at work and in their private lives, all employees in research contribute to ensuring that the University of Bern continues to be protected from relevant sources of infection and that research activities can gradually get closer to normal operation. The aim is largely normal research activity during the "adapted containment" phase, which is likely to continue for some time though.

People entering Switzerland from a country or an area with an increased risk of infection (list) must go into quarantine for 10 days. This means:

  • Go immediately to your home or other suitable accommodation after entry.
  • You must stay there continuously for 10 days after your arrival.
  • Within two days of your arrival, report your entry to the Canton of Bern (form, in German)

All necessary information can be found in this leaflet (in German).

Important for employees: Anyone who travels to a risk country in spite of the Confederation's travel warning is not entitled to payment of their salary during the subsequent quarantine if the work cannot be carried out from home.

The University Executive Board is aware and concerned that the effects of the current situation on early career researchers can be challenging and also wearing / stressful in a variety of ways. Together with the institutes and faculties, the Executive Board is prepared to contribute to appropriate solutions for relevant problems. In particular, proven delays in the research project due to Covid-19 will be accepted by the Executive Board as a reason for the extension of an employment contract beyond the maximum period of employment if this has been agreed with the institutes and faculties involved as a purposeful solution.

It should be avoided that ongoing qualification work (doctorates, habilitations) cannot be completed due to the restrictions. The respective supervisors are responsible and the first points of contact, who discuss the situation on an individual basis with the early career researchers as part of the status review meetings and make appropriate amendments to the doctoral, postdoc or MAG agreements. In particular, it should be taken into account that persons with care obligations or other difficult personal constellations may have been or still are severely restricted in research and publication activities. Here it is important to look for individual solutions and to react flexibly to changing needs within the research team. Solutions are primarily sought within the institutes/research groups, or if need be within the faculties.

You can find advice at the following contact points

General

People arriving in Switzerland who have been in a state or area with an increased risk of infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 according to the FOPH recommendations for travelers at any time within 10 days prior to their arrival are obliged to go directly to their home or other suitable accommodation immediately after they arrive. They must remain there permanently for 10 days after entry (quarantine).

For employees the following also applies:

Employees arriving from risk countries are excluded from working in UniBE properties for 10 days.

Before travelling to countries at risk, the return and commencement of work activities must be arranged with superiors.

Return travelers from risk countries are not entitled to paid short holidays if the basic assignment cannot be fulfilled by working from home.

It is recommended that you restrict travel abroad and avoid travel to risk countries.

Further information can be found at State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

FAQ (corresponding with BE-Info-Flash)

Despite a travel warning from the federal government, I spend my holidays in a risk area. What consequences can this have after returning home?

Since 6 July 2020, people entering countries designated as risk areas by the Confederation must spend 10 days in quarantine upon their return. The list of countries will be continuously updated. Anyone who travels to these countries in spite of travel warnings is not entitled to payment of their salary during the quarantine period if the work cannot be carried out from home. The lost working time must be compensated through balances of annual working time, holiday time, long-term account, or with unpaid leave. If the employee becomes sick, the cantonal personnel office may, at the request of the appointing authority, reduce an employee's salary or stop it completely due to gross negligence.

Under what circumstances is the salary also paid in quarantine?

If it was not known at the time of departure that the country travelled to was on the list of areas with increased risk of infection, the first thing to be checked is whether working from home is possible during the quarantine period. If this is not possible, this time can be booked as planned working time. If the employee becomes ill, they are entitled to continued salary payment as for any other illness.

I have not spent my holidays in a risk area, have no symptoms of illness and voluntarily go into quarantine. Am I still entitled to sick pay?

No. The lost working time must be compensated through balances of annual working time, holiday time, long-term account, or with unpaid leave.

Can the employer require me to undergo a COVID-19 test when I return from a risk area?

No. If the Confederation orders quarantine for returnees from certain countries, a COVID-19 test would be excessive. However, in this situation it is permissible to measure the person's temperature. If illness is suspected, the employer can send employees home.

Protection concept

The University of Bern provides a 4-stage, risk-adapted protection concept for research institutions, which consists of a combination of general and specific measures.

  • Getting to work: Avoid public transport during rush hours and wear a mask when using public transport. Use a bike or private transport wherever possible.
  • Social distancing: There is still a limit on the number of people allowed in the university's research institutions and social distancing still applies. This has an impact on the number of people permitted per room. The following currently applies: 1.5 m distance in the working area and at least 4 m2 per employee in closed rooms.
    Where, for operational reasons, the distance rules cannot always be complied with, wearing a face mask is compulsory. The university can provide each person in the research department with a recyclable, washable mask (type II). These masks are not medically certified protective masks, but simple face masks.
  • Hygiene measures: Washing and sanitizing hands after contact, touching door handles and surfaces and after using toilets is an important protective measure. Toilets should only be flushed with the lid closed due to the formation of aerosols. 
    Laboratories and other open research institutes must provide employees with hand sanitizers and, if possible, skin protection products.
  • Protecting vulnerable people: The top priority is the protection of health, particularly with people at especially high risk. In case of doubt, individual medical risk assessments should be obtained for potentially vulnerable people.
  • Traceability of contacts (tracing): In order to be able to trace personal contacts (longer than 15 minutes and closer than 1.5 meters) in case of an infection with Sars-CoV-2 (traceability), every person working in a research institution is obliged to keep a personal and daily updated logbook (digitally or by using this form). This logbook must contain the following information: Date, places visited on the university campus (room number, approximate time), personal contacts (name, function), work carried out. The logbook must be kept for 4 weeks and is always personal and confidential. However, it must be possible to show it to superiors at any time to prove that an up-to-date and personalized logbook is kept. In case of an infection with SARS-CoV-2, employees are invited to disclose the logbook to the responsible managing directors to identify the possible chain of infection.As an alternative to the personal logbook, the crisis management team recommends the use of the Swiss Covid app. However, this can only be used to its full potential if all members of a work team decide to install and use this app. If this condition is met, the obligation to keep a personal logbook is not applicable.
  • Limiting personal contact: The crisis management team still recommends dividing researchers into shifts or into teams working strictly separately from each other (decoupling of shifts), especially in cases where tight space restrictions make it difficult to observe the distance rules.
  • Overview regarding research activity: The ticketing system for the approval of general research projects will cease to apply on July 1, 2020. Existing "tickets" are being transferred to project lists, which must be updated by the institutes/departments. The institute directors are responsible for updating project lists correctly. These contain information about the people involved, the activities carried out and the basic nature of the project. In the event of a situation requiring new measures to control the spread of the virus, these lists form the basis for the coordination of any measures that the crisis management team would have to take. Updated project lists shall be made available to the crisis management team within 12 hours on request. 
  • For in vivo experiments the ticketing system still applies and the Experimental Animal Centre (EAC) remains the responsible approvals authority (internal link). A cautious strategy is particularly required in this area to prevent any "ups and downs" in case of setbacks. People with responsibilities in this area will remain in contact with the EAC.
  • Each research institution designates and reports changes in the existing safety arrangements (health protection and safety officer GeSiBe list) to the Risk Management Office through the dean's office. As a rule, one health protection and safety officer GeSiBe (with deputy function) is appointed per university unit. In the case of more complex institutions in different properties, the managing directors must appoint additional contact persons for occupational safety (KOPAS) for clearly defined rooms.
  • The GeSiBe are authorized on behalf of the managing directors to ensure compliance with this protection concept and have the right to issue instructions in this regard.
  • University of Bern employees with possible Sars-Cov-2 infection or disease symptoms can be tested at the University Emergency Centre (UNZ) (in German) of the Inselspital on request. The University of Bern has made an agreement with the UNZ, in which this testing will be able to be carried out without complications. During service hours (daily 10:00- 17:00) you can report to the reception of the emergency unit and identify yourself with your UNICARD. Advance notification is not necessary. No costs will be incurred by employees. The invoice will be sent to the University of Bern. The results of the swab test are available within 36 hours. In the event of a positive COVID-19 result, patients will be informed by telephone. Negative results will not be reported. In urgent cases or when outside of service hours, a swab test can be performed as part of a normal medical consultation. Again, registration by telephone is not necessary, but a health insurance card will be required.
  • In the event of a confirmed Sars-Cov-2 infection, the measures set forth by the FOPH will be followed, which will be provided by a doctor.

Safety arrangements

The institute directors and heads of department are responsible for occupational safety, health protection and environmental safety in their unit and have a health protection and safety officer (GeSiBe) at their disposal.

Depending on the size of the university unit, the directorates will appoint additional contact persons for occupational safety (KOPAS). Accordingly, they will define job descriptions for the GeSiBe or KOPAS, entrust a person suitable for the performance of the function with the corresponding tasks and competencies and grant sufficient time, financial and other resources to enable implementation of this task.

It should be noted that responsibility in the areas of occupational safety, health protection and environmental safety is necessarily the responsibility of the institute's management or the head of department and cannot be transferred to the GeSiBe or KOPAS. Corresponding information can also be found in the guidelines of the Exective Board of the University on the duties and employment of full and associate professors at the University of Bern dated 23 August 2011 (in German), and in the leaflet «Overview of the most important duties of the managing directors of the Institute» (in German) dated 20 December 2009/06.10.20152.

Further explanations of the responsibilities for safety arrangements can be found in the Safety and Environment Guidelines (in German) of the Risk Management Unit.

COVID-19 informationen for applicants and project management

On the university’s internal research website, you will find current COVID-19 information from the SNSF, EU Horizon 2020, US NIH and US DoD for applicants as well as for ongoing third-party funded projects. The website is accessible from within the University and Inselspital network or via VPN. For questions please contact the Grants Office.

Website collecting the most relevant studies and guidelines in connection with COVID-19

On www.update-covid.ch, a platform of the Knowledge Management Taskforce of the Inselspital and University of Bern, you see the most relevant studies and guidelines in connection with COVID-19. Target audience are healthcare professionals from all specialities.

Protect yourself and others - hygiene rules (FOPH)