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Lockdowns hit Australian research


Universities in Sydney and Melbourne struggle with latest Covid-19 restrictions

University researchers in Sydney and Melbourne are continuing to feel the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, with access to campuses limited to essential work.

Sydney and Wollongong have been under various levels of restrictions since 26 June, and Melbourne entered its sixth lockdown on 5 August.

A University of Sydney spokesperson told Research Professional News that “the ongoing lockdown is having a significant impact on our research activity, with the university allowing access to our campus only for critical activities due to the current public health orders”.

“Research is considered critical if ceasing activity would lead to animal welfare issues or potential safety issues, [and also includes] participant studies—with our Covid-safety procedures stringently followed—and longitudinal studies that would be severely jeopardised if they were paused at this stage,” they said.

The spokesperson added that the university was "supporting as much research as we can remotely, including being able to access our core research infrastructure and library services through our digital platforms”.

‘Researchers are adaptive’

RMIT University’s deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation, Calum Drummond, said, “The current lockdowns are not ideal from a research point of view.”

However, RMIT has continued to conduct essential experimental research activities during this time, he said.

"Researchers are adaptive and many have successfully pivoted to activities they can do while in lockdown, focusing on publication writing, grant applications, and design of future research activities.

"In the times when restrictions have eased, we have seen an intense focus on gaining experimental results."

A spokesperson for the university said RMIT’s researchers increased their level of grant applications during the 111-day 2020 Melbourne lockdown.

Essential research continues

The University of Technology Sydney is carrying out only “essential” research, a spokesperson said. Access has been “granted to facilities, labs and equipment in order for essential work to continue”.

“Approval is required from faculty deans to work on campus, with an appropriate ‘COVIDSafe’ risk assessment in place. It has also been deemed important for research students remain fully engaged and supported under the current circumstances. If necessary, research students are still able to come to UTS to study, print and conduct research,” they said.

On 4 August, the University of Wollongong announced A$1.4 million worth of grants to 50 new projects, using federal relief funding. The grants “prioritise early career researchers and interdisciplinary teams impacted by Covid-19”, a statement from the university said.

The city of Wollongong was added to the areas of New South Wales under stay-at-home orders in late June, and campuses have been off limits to most students and staff since then.

Victorian campuses outside Melbourne were released from lockdown on 10 August, but mask wearing and other limits still apply.