Coronavirus: Information for researchers
The Federal Council has communicated the first stage of the easing of restrictions under the COVID-19 ordinance. The effect of this for research operations is that from 27.4.20 onwards, activities that require a physical presence at the university can be resumed under clearly defined conditions by means of a "ticketing system".
We would like to explain the basic principles and the practical procedure of this process. All units are subject to the guidelines in an updated safety arrangement and must comply with a four-level protection concept.
The implemented measures are based on the following principles:
- The protection of health, especially in the case of particularly at-risk persons, has priority.
- The movement of people will be limited, with only gradual resumption of normal research operations. This has an impact on the number of authorised persons, and takes into account the logistics of travel routes.
- Research projects require a valid «ticket» (download form), which must be requested, and will be issued by the institute directorates and the health and safety officers (GeSiBe) on a temporary basis.
- For in vivo experiments the Experimental Animal Centre (EAC) is the responsible licensing authority (internal link). In this area in particular, a cautious strategy is needed to prevent an "up and down" in the event of setbacks. Persons with responsibility in this area are contacted directly by the EAC. The differences between this and the system which has been used until now, can be summarised graphically as follows:
Research carried out within the premises of Inselspital or University Psychiatric Services (UPD) is subject to the regulations of the Teaching and Research Directorate of the Inselspital or UPD.
Service providers remain in operation, subject to the rules of distance and hygiene, and are responsible for the quality of their service and the safety of their staff.
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, 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.
The University of Bern is introducing a 4-level protection concept for research institutions, which consists of a combination of general and specific measures. In the case of overriding safety requirements, e.g. in high-security laboratories, the relevant safety regulations apply.
Level I: Social distancing, hand hygiene and limitation of people per room
- The rules of conduct and hygiene of the FOPH must be strictly adhered to.
- Laboratories and other research facilities which have opened must provide employees with disinfection solution and, if possible, skin protection products.
- Wherever possible, only one person should be present per room at any one time. In general, the standard of at least 10m2 per employee must be observed. A maximum of 5 employees are permitted in rooms / laboratories larger than 50m2. The regulations regarding working alone (in German) must also be taken into account
- Where, for operational reasons, the distance rules cannot always be complied with, wearing a face mask is compulsory. The university can provide a reusable, washable mask (type II) to any person in the research department. These masks are not medically certified protective masks, but simple masks for the nose and mouth.
- Contact of closer than two metres and longer than 10 minutes must be documented with name and location and the superior must be informed.
Level II: Traceability and limitation of personal contact in research operations
- Every person working in research should take care to limit contact with other people. A guideline of a maximum of 5 personal contacts per employee in research operations is aimed for.
- In order to be able to trace the personal contacts in case of an infection with Sars-CoV-2 (traceability), every person working in a research facility is obliged to keep a personal and daily updated logbook (digitally or by using this form). This logbook should contain the following information: Date, places visited on the university campus (room number, approximate time), personal contacts (name, function), and work carried out. The logbook must be kept for 4 weeks and is always personal and confidential. However, it must be possible to prove to the supervisor at any time that an up-to-date and personalised logbook is being kept. In the event of an infection with Sars-CoV-2, employees are invited to disclose the logbook to the responsible managing directorate to identify the possible chain of infection.
- In order to keep the number of people in a research operation low and to ensure the traceability of contacts, the Executive Board of the University recommends, wherever possible, that researchers be divided into shifts or into teams working strictly separated from each other (shift decoupling). In order to make this possible, working hours should be allowed to extend into the evening and to weekends.
- Research conferences and meetings, reports, etc. involving the presence of people should be avoided. The University provides software which is suitable for video conferences in these cases.
Level III: Approval of research projects and cooperation with the security arrangements.
- The institute directors evaluate the applications for research, keep records, and report the approved research projects at weekly intervals to the Vice-Rectorate Research via the Dean's Offices using a standardized reporting form. In case of conflicts of interest, they abstain and allow themselves to be represented by a substitute. The Exceptional Research Application Form (DOCX, 38KB) can be downloaded here (in german).
- In vivo Arbeiten sind über einen gesonderten Prozess via das Experimental Animal Centre bewiligungspflichtig.
- Each research organisation designates and reports changes in the existing safety arrangements (in German) to the Risk Management Unit via the Dean's Office (list of GeSiBe). As a rule, one GeSiBe (with deputy function) is appointed per university unit. In the case of more complex institutions with multiple properties, the Managing Directorates must designate additional contact persons for occupational safety (KOPAS) for clearly defined premises.
- On behalf of the Managing Directorate, the GeSiBe are commissioned to implement compliance with this protection concept and have the right to issue instructions in this regard.
Level IV: Low-threshold identification of infections and cases of illness
- At-risk employees and risk groups may not be appointed for on-site research during the first stage of the easing of restrictions. They should continue to work from home.
- University of Bern employees with possible Sars-Cov-2 infection or disease symptoms can be tested at the University Emergency Centre (UNZ) 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. This includes notifying the employee's superior at the workplace. If possible, with the help and agreement of the person concerned, the superior will check the person's working environment based on their logbook and initiate the necessary measures.
- Is it possible to use a library?
Reading rooms open again for students and researchers as from June 8, 2020: For staff and students of the University of Bern and the PHBern, as well as for students of the BENEFRI programme, a reduced number of study places are available in the reading rooms of the Münstergasse Library, the Basisbibliothek Unitobler, the Medical Library, the Library of Law JBB and the Swiss Library of Eastern Europe SOB as from June 8. Unfortunately, the libraries remain closed to non-university audiences – with a few exceptions – until the beginning of August. Read more.
- Is it possible to use a reference library in the institute?
This is equivalent to the use of a specific research facility and is subject to authorisation similar to the use of a laboratory. In both cases, permission will be granted by the competent GeSiBe on the basis of a list of criteria.
- Do the new regulations also apply to field research and excursions?
Fieldwork and excursions are part of university research. They present similar questions regarding logistics, travel, and organisation of people's meetings. Therefore, these activities also require a ticket in accordance with the protection concept.
- What exactly is «contact»? Is there a clear definition of duration, distance and circumstances?
The assessment of risk for contact depends on three factors: physical proximity, duration, and the health situation of the people involved (e.g. cough). It should be considered that approximately 40 percent of all transmissions are by asymptomatic or low symptom individuals. The transmission peak is usually before the onset of symptoms. As a minimum guideline, we recommend the «ECDC». For university operations, the following criteria apply:
- A person living in the same household as a COVID-19 case;
- A person who has had direct physical contact with a COVID-19 case (e.g. shaking hands);
- A person who has had unprotected direct contact with infectious secretions of COVID-19 (e.g. being coughed on, touching used paper tissues with a bare hand);
- A person who has had face-to-face contact with a COVID-19 case within 2 metres and > 15 minutes;
- A person who has been in a closed environment (e.g. classroom, meeting room, hospital waiting room, etc.) with a COVID-19 case for 15 minutes or more and at a distance of less than 2 metres.
Who covers the costs of the COVID fast-track tests and how do employees have to identify themselves?
The costs are covered by the university. The personal Unicard acts as sufficient identification.
SNSF (Status 26.03.2020)
The SNSF has extended some submission deadlines (project funding, BRIDGE Discovery). Current information can be found in the SNSF FAQs.
SNSF (Status 26.03.2020)
The SNSF will continue to pay salaries for project personnel and all other project-related costs until the official end of the project. In the event of delays in project work, a cost-neutral extension can be requested in mySNF. An additional contribution can also be requested if delays will jeopardize the successful completion of your project. You can find further information on the SNSF website.
Innosuisse (Status 30.04.2020)
Innovation projects: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can apply for project extensions (with or without additional costs) and redistribution of work packages between project partners. If the implementation partner is no longer able to pay the cash contribution to the university, Innosuisse may take it over. Request forms, further details and "Questions & Answers" can be found on the Innosuisse website.
Do not forget to inform the Financial Department of the University about changes of the end date (new date for the financial report).
EU Horizon 2020 (Status 26.03.2020)
General: If you are experiencing issues in your project, you may be able to apply the "force majeure" rule. Costs may be charged to your project if you could have charged them under normal circumstances. The EC will decide on a case-by-case basis if this rule can be applied. You will need to provide information on the nature, likely duration and foreseeable effects of the issues. You will also need to show that you have taken all the necessary steps to limit any damage. Please inform the Grants Office as soon as you foresee any issues in your project or consortium. Updates can be found in the EC FAQs.
MSCA Projects: In a RISE project, if a mobility phase cannot be postponed, check whether a temporary project suspension is possible. For ITN and IF projects, you may be able to activate the "force majeure" rule in order to cancel any secondments that cannot be carried out.
US National Institutes of Health (Status 26.03.2020)
Salaries for project staff who are no longer able to do project work, as well as costs for travel that cannot be taken, can continue to be charged, if they fulfill the usual NIH conditions. However, you must prove that you have taken all the necessary steps to limit the damage. Please inform the Grants Office as soon as you foresee such issues in your project, because we have to inform the NIH. Current information can be found on the NIH website and in the NIH FAQs.
US Department of Defense (Status 30.03.2020)
Salaries for project staff who are no longer able to do project work, as well as costs for travel that cannot be taken, can continue to be charged, if they fulfill the usual DoD conditions. However, you must prove that you have taken all the necessary steps to limit the damage. Please inform the Grants Office as soon as you foresee that you will not be able to reach the milestones/deliverables by the dates indicated in your Statement of Work, because we have to inform the DoD. Current information can be found in the DoD FAQs, by clicking on USAMRAA's COVID-19 FAQs in the COVID-19 banner on eBRAP.
New website with the main studies and guidelines related to Covid-19
At www.update-covid.ch you will find an up-to-date collection of the most important studies and guidelines related to Covid-19. The target group are health professionals of all disciplines.