University of Limerick (UL) President Des Fitzgerald has expressed his belief that the college will not reopen to students until mid-June, outlining that UL may host a field hospital on its campus if the health services are “overwhelmed” by the demands of the coronavirus pandemic.
Universities, schools and childcare facilities around the country have been closed until March 29 in a bid to contain the virus. Fitzgerald said he expects it “to be at least mid-June before we return and after this pandemic hopefully peaks”.
“It is likely before then that UL will play host to a field hospital as our frontline health services are potentially overwhelmed,” Fitzgerald said.
The closure follows Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s speech from Washington on Thursday that universities, schools and childcare facilities were to close until March 29. Additionally, Varadkar called for a stop to indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people to slow down the transmission of the virus.
In an email to Trinity students and staff circulated on Thursday evening, Provost Patrick Prendergast similarly expressed that the closure may last longer than the initial two weeks.
“The Government’s decision today is effective until March 29 but it would be wise to allow for the possibility of a longer closure,” Prendergast wrote.
Access to Trinity’s campus is limited to residents, staff, and postgraduate research students who have received written permission from their supervisors. Teaching has been moved online, while a small number of services remain open for residents, including the Buttery.
Trinity is currently preparing to replace in-person exams, due to take place in April, with online forms of assessment.
A fifth case of coronavirus among Trinity students was confirmed on Sunday evening. The student had travelled on Trinity’s Surf Club’s trip to Fuerteventura last week. The club announced that the student will be self-isolating, while other students who went on the trip must now self-quarantine.
Fitzgerald announced that UL is working with the HSE to develop “more sophisticated systems of contact tracing, with the inclusion of testing. This is further to the change in testing criteria in recent days.” He indicated that more widespread testing means a likely increase in positive test results.
“The Government and health authorities are doing everything they can and those at the front line facing Covid-19 coronavirus are performing incredible work,” he said.
“We have a small window of time right now where we can really have an influence over how bad this gets. We still have a chance to flatten out the curve of this deadly virus and help to interrupt its march but we need to act now, today, this morning.”
There are currently 169 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland, with 52 cases in Northern Ireland.