Supporting Information for Researchers

AIM:  To provide advice and clarification for UNE researchers, including HDR candidates, and third-party research organisations using UNE facilities, on the impact of COVID 19 on ongoing and future research.  

UNE prioritises the health and welfare for all participants in research (human, animal, researchers, students) and this directs our endeavours.

These principles and advice are subject to change as conditions emerge, please check them frequently

Research Guidelines in response to COVID 19

Principles:

Where possible UNE supports research to be continued if all the following considerations can be met:

Current Ongoing Research

Use current advice around social distance and hygiene.

Communication with funding bodies is encouraged to discuss risks to milestones, timelines, budgets and completion. Research Services is ready to assist in these discussions.

Current and planned future research

Careful planning for the feasibility of current and future research projects that may be impacted by this event is essential with specific regard to:

  • availability of technical and analytical personnel and services including logistics and equipment that may be required for research conduct and analysis;
  • managing the potential loss, through diagnosis of COVID-19 and/or isolation requirements, of critical staff and skills required for leadership and conduct;
  • being able to avoid anything other than 2 people together at any one time, and for less than two hours duration, Animal projects requiring a small number (less than 5) of research support team members to be safely and effectively conducted may apply for an exemption to this rule by contacting the Director CART. This does not apply to research projects involving human participants;
  • being able to apply effective social distancing and ensure a distance of more than 1.5 metres for interactions for less than 15 mins;

Where all these conditions cannot be met, then recasting, postponing, suspending or terminating a research project is required. Research must also be able to comply with all relevant government policies for COVID-19. Please read the following sections for guidelines that apply specifically for human and animal research.

Research involving Humans

The Chair Human Research Ethics Committee advises:

Operational matters

Human Research Ethics Committee will continue to assess applications

- subject to continued staff/member availability, weekly E2 meetings will be convened by Zoom, commencing immediately

- subject to continued staff/member availability and access, monthly E3 meetings will transition to Zoom commencing April 2020

New Applications

  • For new applications which plan to involve direct face to face contact with participants Principal Investigator’s (PI) must consider alternate methods (e.g. phone contact, Skype/Zoom) and take into account current Australian Government COVID-19 guidelines for projects planned to be conducted over the next 3-6 months, especially where participants represent vulnerable groups
  • When reviewing applications, COVID-19 will be taken into consideration as a potential risk for participants and researchers by the UNE HREC.

Current Approved Projects

  • For already approved projects that involve direct face to face contact with participants but which have not commenced recruitment, PI’s are advised to defer commencement or propose alternate methods (e.g. phone contact, Skype/Zoom). A variation to procedure can be documented by email with the Secretary, to be confirmed by the Chair.

For already approved projects that involve direct face to face contact which have commenced recruitmentPI’s are reminded of the current Public Health guidelines for maximum number of people in a group (2), no non-essential travel, social distancing, duration of contact and hand hygiene, if the conduct of the project is not possible adhering to these guidelines (e.g. more than 2 people, close contact or physically touching participants is required) then PI’s are advised to suspend research activity and recruitment until current Public Health guidelines change or propose alternate methods if possible. A variation to procedure can be documented by email with the Secretary, to be confirmed with the Chair

  • For already approved projects that involve direct face to face contact with people over 70, people over 60 with existing health concerns and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50 with existing health concerns these must be immediately suspended and contact made with the Secretary for further advice.

The UNE HREC will endeavour to facilitate rapid review of variations to procedure, where feasible.

Research Involving Animals

  1. A temporary hold has been placed on the commencement of animal related research with the exception of research deemed to be in the national interest.  Research related to COVID-19 is a clear example of national interest but there may be other relevant fields.
  2. For current ongoing research, researchers must develop contingency plans in conjunction with the Director CART to manage animal welfare if restrictions increase to a level that does not permit successful execution or completion of experimental protocols.
  3. Research that is assessed to be in the national interest will be exempt from 1 & 2.
  4. The Animal Ethics Committee will continue to assess applications on this basis at the planned monthly meeting.

Note: Routine farm practices conducted on the SMART Farms are excluded from these guidelines. Government advice indicates that primary industry production and related businesses can continue to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis, though should practice appropriate social distancing measures, as practicable.

UNE has provided the following supporting information for staff (login required).

HDR Candidates are recommended to routinely visit this site for the most up to date information.