An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced a closure of all schools and higher education institutions as Ireland has entered into a new phase in dealing with the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
The University of Limerick campus has closed in the first instance until March 29.
There will be access on campus for a core skeleton staff to maintain essential services and a team from Buildings and Estates will continue to service the campus and provide security and support to students in University residences who cannot return to their homes.
We will require staff, where at all possible, to remain working from home and for students to engage with their course content online. More information will be communicated to students in relation to alternative assessment. All course related travel will be cancelled until March 29.
We have also established teams in various support units to maintain services to staff and students off campus, including HR, Finance and ITD. Details and further advice on issues such as travel, support for parents on school closure and staff sick leave are available on the dedicated ul.ie/covid19 webpage.
You should continue to visit this source of official information on the UL website, which has a long list of frequently asked questions (FAQs), which are being updated regularly.
We are developing an inventory of essential supplies and services for faculties and research facilities and will do all we can to secure them. Any further developments will be announced promptly by email and through the dedicated website and I would ask that you pay attention to them.
A serious focus must now be on the prevention of community spread by limiting person-to-person contact, for example by banning public events and closing institutions. I am also conscious that the airlines are gradually limiting services to affected areas and that the US has banned flights from 22 EU countries bordering the Schengen region but not the UK and Ireland. There is therefore a limited window in which students can return to their home countries if they wish.
The University Critical Incident Committee will continue to meet and to advise you and to monitor developments, while our staff move to delivering our educational programmes online. A separate communication will go out to our on-campus residents to outline the plans in place to support students in UL residences who are unable to return home.
The staff have pulled together remarkably in preparing for this pandemic and I want to thank them for the extraordinary work they have done and will continue to do in delivering our programmes to the students and in maintaining campus and community life.
I am conscious that they have done this under extraordinary pressure as they too, and their families, face into this storm. I know many of you are worried, even frightened. Let me assure you that the majority will contract no or only a mild or moderate illness. Older people will suffer most, as will the men and women who are at the coalface of our medical services, many of whom are on our faculty. What we must all do is isolate ourselves, limit our contacts and observe the advice on hygiene.
If you don’t interact with an infected person, you won’t get the disease and as you won’t know who is infected, avoid all contact if possible. In particular, comfort and care for older people but from a distance – stay in touch with them in whatever way you can.
I am reminded of a letter I received from the president of our partner institution Shandong University in China as they faced Covid-19. He said that the students and staff had pulled together to fight this virus and he felt they were winning. UL is a strong community and working as a community we will get through this and return to thrive.
We are responding to a disaster that goes well beyond the campus and will disrupt public and private services for weeks, maybe months to come. But universities are resilient – history shows that they survive catastrophe to return and help rebuild themselves and their communities.
We will be back and we will return to normal, supporting each other and the community of Limerick and the Mid-West as we have always done.