From then to now: An overview of Trinity’s closure and when we might return

One year on from when Trinity closed its doors, officials are “optimistic” at prospects for a return in September 2021 

Trinity first closed its gates due to the pandemic a year ago, with some students not having stepped foot on campus since. On 10 March 2020, Trinity moved all lectures online due to Covid-19 concerns. This followed a petition to Trinity by students, calling for a closure to stop the spread, which reached 1,000 signatures on 8 March 2020.

College announced that all lectures were to be delivered online for the rest of the semester but tutorials, seminars and laboratory practicals would continue to be given in college. In an email to students, College said this would “slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, but further measures may be necessary and these arrangements will be kept under continuous review”.

Less than 48 hours later, Leo Varadkar, who was then Taoiseach, stood in Washington DC and announced that all colleges and schools were to close to stop the spread of Covid-19. The Taoiseach said that “where possible” teaching will be continued online. Colleges were told to remain closed until March 29. Varadkar explained at that time that “there will be many more cases, more people will get sick and we must face the tragic reality that some people will die.”

Speaking to Trinity, one student recalled where they were when they heard Trinity was to fully close for those initial two weeks. “I was in TK Maxx with my mum shopping, I didn’t have any classes that day, so we went shopping,” she explained. “Leo made the announcement, and I was basically like ‘no way’.” 

“I couldn’t believe it was happening; I don’t think it fully registered that the whole country is getting completely shut down.” 

“I only kind of started to realise when we walked out of the shop and went to go food shopping; the place is packed,” she explained. “Everyone is like buying in bulk, there was like nothing left on the shelves and the queues wrapped around the whole store.”

“I just remember thinking that if anyone in this shop has Covid-19, then we all have Covid-19, and if all shops are like this, then at this rate half the country already has the disease.”

Another student also spoke to Trinity News about where they were when she initially heard the news. “When Trinity closed, I specifically remember that it was the week after Reading Week, and I didn’t come in that day, because I was going to a concert.”

“On the day Varadkar made the announcement, I was getting dressed and I decided to go in early and meet one of my friends for lunch,” she explained. “Suddenly, we just get this news like ‘oh, we’re closing for two weeks’.”

“Everything was normal one minute, I was getting ready to go out, and the next, we were told we were going to be closed for two weeks. Little did I know it was going to be a whole year.”

Following an acceleration of the first wave of the pandemic, College told students living in Trinity Accommodation that they had to leave by the following evening on 16 March 2020. All students whose home is in Ireland were told they must return home and “stay at home until notified otherwise,” and students with a home overseas should aim to have left their Trinity accommodation by 5pm on Wednesday March 18. 

However, students who fit certain criteria were permitted to remain on campus. This list included students who faces homelessness, students who have the virus or are currently self-isolating, if their family at home has the virus, students who have immigration, travel, and/or visa restrictions, students whose home is in an area with extremely limited internet connectivity, and PhD students who must conduct lab or other research on campus that’s required for their thesis.

One student recalled the experience of when she received this news. “I was living on campus at the time. When we, the residents, got the “final final definitely closing down” email, it had become nearly ludicrous.”

“I remember they asked us to move out but to pack in such a way as to not need help (that’s practically verbatim), which I remember really finding hilarious,” she expressed. “It was as though we could all just pull our socks up and pile all of our belongings on our backs and trot off or something.”

She continued: “I felt a weird gratitude that I wasn’t in my final year because I felt so particularly sorry for final year students who were thrown out, we got barely a few days notice.”

“But now I’m here again, and it’s my final year, and I haven’t seen a lecture hall since.”

A closure that should have seen tutorials and small scale lectures return on 29 March 2020 has resulted in a year’s long closure of in person learning for many students, with not many students returning to campus at all throughout the year. 

While students were informed before the beginning of the first term of the academic year 2020/21 they would resume a hybrid learning approach in September, this was cancelled a few weeks prior due to concerns about a rise in Covid-19 cases in the country. Similarly, students were told in January that due to a fluctuation in the number of Covid-19 cases following the Christmas period, online learning was to remain the primary form of education in Trinity for the remainder of the academic year.

Speaking to Trinity News, one student who hasn’t been on campus since the beginning of the pandemic recalled their last moment in Trinity. “I remember talking with some friends about the potential severity of the coronavirus, not knowing what was to come,” he explained. “There were mixed opinions amongst my group of friends about how serious this would end up being, and though we were all unsure, we felt having some time away from the college to go into a brief lockdown may help, so that we could finish off first year as normal.”

“I definitely thought we’d be back before the summer exams, at least.” 

He continued: “However, once the cases started to rise at a rapid rate, I realised it wouldn’t be remotely possible.”

On 5 March 2020, Trinity recorded its first coronavirus case, and the fourth floor and lifts of the Trinity Biomedical Science Institute (TBSI) were closed as a precaution. Hand sanitisers were provided across campus and in off-campus locations in a bid to prevent a possible spread of infection. College has placed posters across campus with information on the virus, and established a dedicated web page to provide updates and advice.

A second case of Covid-19 was reported a week later in a Health Science student on March 12. Since the initial cases back in March 2020, Trinity has seen a further outbreak in TBSI in November, a breakout of nine cases among the rugby team and an outbreak of the disease in Goldsmith Hall in February. There have also been a handful of cases of the disease in Trinity Hall.

College officials spoke to Trinity News earlier this month about a prospective return to some in person learning at Trinity come September. According to the government’s latest vaccination plan, members of third level institutions could see earlier vaccination than the general public, after those aged 55 to 60 years. Previously, it has been stipulated that those aged between 18 to 34 are to be prioritized under the roll-out plan, should research “demonstrates the vaccine(s) prevent transmission” within the community. A College spokesperson told Trinity News that due to this reprioritisation of the rollout plan, Trinity is “hopeful”, that College can resume more face to face teaching in September.

“However, it will of course depend on the progress of the pandemic and on public health advice,” they added.

Speaking to Trinity News, one student spoke about the possibility of returning to normality in the next academic year.

“I am so excited at the prospect of a potential return to face to face classes and tutorials!” he explained. “For me, it has been a massive struggle to be able to focus my work at home.” 

“I had no appropriate workspace or area to fully focus on my work, and being at home certainly was a deterrent from being motivated about college work.”

He concluded: “I really do miss all of the little things about being on campus, the atmosphere, seeing friends, and I am eagerly holding out hope on a September return!”

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.