University of Limerick President Dr Des Fitzgerald believes it will be at least mid-June before the college re-opens.
All universities, schools and other education institutions are closed in the first instance until March 29, but he said today “let me be clear; I expect it to be at least mid-June before we return and after this pandemic hopefully peaks."
His comments raise the spectre of the entire education system remaining shut until the end of the current academic year.
Dr Fitzgerald, a cardiologist and former Professor of Molecular Medicine at UCD and Chief Academic Officer of the Ireland East Hospital Group, also envisages UL being used as a field hospital to help deal with the ongoing crisis.
He outlined some of the ways the university was already pitching in and said they were working with the HSE to develop more sophisticated systems of contact tracing, with the inclusion of testing.
He said this was further to the change in testing criteria in recent days.
“We are also working on a process of using mobile phone geolocation data to map individuals who may have come into contact with an individual with a positive diagnosis.”
As the Covid-19 crisis escalates, Dr Fitzgerald appealed to people to “take personal responsibility to try and slow down this virus and save lives”.
He is mounting a campaign over social and traditional media to alert people to the severity of the crisis and to reinforce the absolute necessity for immediate widespread adoption of social distancing.
The UL president was in contact over the weekend with TDs, senior business people, media and civic leaders to ask them to join him in calling for communities to change their behaviour now and save lives.
“These are extraordinary times. We are facing the single biggest health crisis in living memory,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
“I am deeply concerned that people are not fully realising the severity of the situation and so are not changing their behaviour quickly enough.
“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 social gatherings were still taking place, “and at a level where there is disregard for everyone’s public safety.”
“Those that are dealing directly with this crisis don’t have the luxury to self-isolate and reduce their personal contact - we owe it to those at the coalface to do everything we can to buy them enough time to deal with this crisis.
“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.
“None of us has ever faced anything like this in our lifetimes but we do have it within our power to influence how dire this does or does not become.
“People must take personal responsibility to try and slow down this virus and try to save lives.
“The announcement of the change in recent days in the testing criteria means there will be more testing and that will absolutely mean a lot more diagnoses that are positive – the virus is far more widespread than the number of positive tests would indicate now.
“We have to do anything and everything to stop this awful virus spreading. The professionals will do their part, so you must do your part. Stop this virus spreading - stay apart. People in Limerick must stop meeting, stop this disease - party when it is over, not now.
“What you do now will have an impact long into the future. We owe it to the sisters, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sons, mothers and fathers placing themselves in the way of this virus that is already spreading through our community.
“We must take action and by remaining apart, we stand together.”
Dr Fitzgerald added that people might consider keeping a daily diary of their contact with other people – this is a good way to make people more conscious of their personal contact with others.
“Stay active and keep going for walks and connect with people remotely via phone, or social media,” said the UL President.
“I have already heard a lot of incredible stories of communities coming together through social messaging platforms to stay connected and support each other. This is the only kind of community gathering we need right now,” he added.
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