A Balliol College student accommodation block is to be transformed into a coronavirus (COVID-19) testing and isolation centre over the next few days, The Oxford Blue can reveal.

Today in an email sent from Master Helen Ghosh to Balliol students living off-site in neighbouring accommodation blocks, she explained that:

“It is currently the case that so far, Colleges have each been making their own arrangements for self-isolation, which is neither the most efficient not the most effective way to ensure that the virus does not spread further across the University population. The University looked for a free-standing building near the centre of Oxford (to ensure easy access for students) and asked us if we were willing to help.

The block of approximately forty student dorms is based away from the main Balliol site. It is newly built and currently has no residents. No Balliol staff will be involved in the centre.

The number of cases at Oxford University are currently very low, the email states. But that, if numbers rise, it is possible that students living in surrounding blocks will be moved to alternative accommodation in other colleges. The students would be allowed to move, rent free, and with a rebate of their current rent.

“The University will ensure that people who need testing go directly and safely to the self-isolation location and remain there, confined to their rooms, until they are cleared. So the risk to students and staff in the wider Balliol population should be negligible.

“As you can imagine, our first thought was for the health and safety of all our staff and students, as well as the building workers nearby. We have had detailed discussions with Public Health experts about this. We have been reassured by Public Health England’s statements (re-stated to us) of the facts around how the virus is caught. Coronavirus is spread by being in close contact with an infected individual – close being defined as within 2 meters for a prolonged period of time – or having direct contact with infectious fluids (such as being coughed on).

“NHS policy at this stage is that anyone found to have the virus will be taken immediately to hospital.”

A Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Department of Medicine has been made available to answer any questions the Balliol students may have. A phone-in for Balliol students is planned to be held this Wednesday morning.

This comes after the first case of coronavirus at the University to be confirmed at Lincoln College, which The Blue reported yesterday. The person had recently returned from travel overseas, and self-isolated immediately after developing symptoms. Those who have been in close contact with the student have been individually notified.

The UK total number of confirmed cases now stands at 321, with 4 deaths and 18 recoveries.

Balliol College has been contacted for comment.

Phoebe Hennell

Phoebe Hennell is co-founder of The Oxford Blue, and former Managing Director. She is reading Philosophy and Modern Greek at Christ Church, and is on her year abroad in Athens.