It is great to see that here in the ACT we have only one new COVID-19 case confirmed in the last 11 days, and nationally, the number of news cases has dropped into the single digits per day. The Federal and State governments are working on plans to gradually roll back restrictions in relation to COVID-19, and while we don't know what this means yet, we have started our plans for the next phase of the epidemic here at ANU. Our first priority remains the safety of our entire community, but ensuring our actions are proportionate and as flexible as possible.
As you can imagine we are planning for a number of potential scenarios. Firstly, we are focusing on how and under what circumstances we can bring activities back to campus. I am hopeful that we will be able to slowly and carefully reintroduce activities on campus over time. For the time being, most of us will need to continue to work at home. But as a first step, we are looking to reintroduce campus activities limited to a small number of research projects that cannot be done off site, as well as some additional vital infrastructure support. Following this, we are developing plans for a broader return to campus. I realise many of you have your own ideas, and I appreciate your emails, but we will continue to follow expert public health advice, so we can be assured that the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks within our community remains minimal. Our initial thinking was that the return to campus wouldn't happen until at least the end of semester one. I have some hope we might be able to bring this return forward for some parts of our community, and we will provide updates regularly.
I know this has been an incredibly frustrating time for us all, and particularly for those in our research community who rely on access to research facilities on campus or who are progressing work with partners and funders. Thank you for your continued patience, and if you have any questions or concerns, please raise them with your supervisor.
For our early career academics, this in an unsettling period in your research career and a mentor can be an important person to give you guidance and support. For more senior academics, the NECTAR Mentoring Program allows you to support a colleague, and share some of your learnings, professional and personal - pay it forward. The program closes on Thursday 30 April, and you can sign up here.
I also acknowledge that this year has been very disruptive for our HDR students; so I'm very pleased that Professor Ann Evans will be continuing as the Dean, Higher Degree Research (HDR). Ann has been in the chair since May 2019, and has championed a number of issues for HDR students during the current crisis as well as redefining the ANU PhD. In uncertain times, it's important to provide leadership and stability. Congratulations Ann on this appointment.
Last night, I hosted our very first live virtual Meet the Author event with Malcolm Turnbull and Katharine Murphy to discuss the former Prime Minister's new, and no-holds-barred autobiography. It was great to see more than 600 people from across Australia link into our event live. If you missed it, you can watch the event on ANU TV. The technology worked well, and you can expect more interesting conversations like this one into the future.
Virtual events are rapidly becoming the norm for all of us as a way to stay engaged and connect with one another. Our ANU Counselling team are providing their mindfulness sessions via Zoom. With added stresses and uncertainty around COVID-19 on our day to day lives, more than ever, our mental health needs to be a priority. You can attend a Mindfulness session here.
Earlier today, I also hosted my first virtual 'Ask Me Anything' staff forum. It was good to hear from colleagues from across campus, and address some of your questions and concerns. The staff forum can be watched here for those who missed it. I'm also planning virtual forums for undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as our HDR cohort in the next fortnight. Please check On(&Off) Campus on Tuesday for more details.
Up at my part of the University, Mt Stromlo, our staff and students are reaching out to the community with a whole range of activities for people young and old. Have a look at their Facebook page or website for talks ranging from "Fantastic Planets and How to Find them" to "The Biggest Explosions in the Universe". This is International Dark Sky Week, so take the opportunity to look up and revel in the beautiful Universe we are part of. We have so much to share with the world across the University, so I encourage everyone to be creative. Talk to your School Director if you have some good ideas for your part of the University.
Finally, this week I continued my COVID-19 Zoom cast series with Dr Arnagretta Hunter, the inaugural ANU Human Futures Fellow. We had a cheery conversation on the topic of human survival in the face of catastrophic global risks. You can watch our chat on ANU TV.
Enjoy the long weekend, I'll be picking more raspberries, and working on several wicking beds so that my vegetables next year look as good as Richard Baker's.