Varadkar: 50% capacity in indoor venues does not apply to exam halls

Varakar has cited government funded antigen tests as the reason exam halls will operate at full capacity, despite mounting criticisms due to unsafe conditions in NUI Galway exam halls

An Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has announced that the regulations stating that all indoor venues will operate at 50% capacity will not apply to exam halls during the examination period.

Instead, funding given for free college antigen tests will be intended to allow students to take a test prior to their exam.

The announcement of antigen tests being free for third level students was made last week with exams beginning on December 6. It is uncertain how many of these free tests have been provided to students before sitting exams.

Students have recently criticised National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) concerning the lack of safety measures being implemented in their exam halls.

Videos of the exam halls at NUI Galway showed a concerning lack of safety measures in place to protect those attending from Covid-19. Despite emails sent to students by NUI Galway, assuring them that exam venues would be operating at reduced capacity with ventilation, a one-way system for entering and exiting, hand sanitisers available at all entrance points, and the university’s cleaning protocol in place.

Students have claimed that no such safety measures were in fact implemented.

According to students, exam halls were operating at full capacity, with no one way system or social distancing measures in place. Students were also seen to not have been wearing masks correctly.

According to one student: “There was no social distancing and only one hand sanitiser station.” 

“A lot of people walking in around the group had no mask on, or around their nose. Some invigilators were not wearing them properly, and one of them was even in a visor.”

Trinity is currently planning for exams to be held in-person in the RDS and the Exam Hall. This decision had drawn heavy criticism, in particular from the Graduates Student Union (GSU).

GSU President, Gisele Scanlon has said on Twitter: “Yesterday [the GSU and Students4Change] delivered 5000+ student signatures last week to Minister Harris to prevent this. To the NUIGSU students who signed the open letter for protection, Colleges insisting on in-person exams in crowded exam halls is unnecessary and we should not take any unnecessary risks.” 

Both the GSU and Students4Change, a small activist group on campus, have called on College to cancel all in-person assessments due to Covid-19. 

This article was updates at 3:00pm 9/12/21 to specify that Students4Change also delivered the open letter to Harris. 

Jamie Cox

Jamie Cox is current News Analysis Editor for Trinity News and previously served as Higher Education Correspondent. He is a Junior Sophister Ancient and Medieval History and Culture student.