UCD, along with the other Irish institutions of higher education, has welcomed new guidelines allowing for one metre social distancing on-campus, paired with the wearing of masks.

The new guidelines were published by the IUA (Irish Universities Association), who were involved in the consultation process over this publication.

Andrew Deeks, UCD President was quoted on the university’s Twitter, saying, “I welcome the clarity in the public health guidelines for higher education, which is in line with our expectations and planning.”

During the summer, UCD has been making their plans for September with the expectation that there would be a one metre distance regulation in place. However, back in July, the Department of Higher and Further Education had suggested that there would be a two metre physical distancing boundary in universities. Sources suggest that the university was aware of the one metre distancing reduction in advance of their publication.

Previously, Deputy President and Registrar of UCD, Mark Rogers, announced that undergraduate students would be in classrooms for 40-60% of the normal schedule whilst graduate students would have between 75-100% of normal class time. Academics have been sceptical on the implementation of these guidelines.

Along with these new guidelines, those living in student accommodation have been advised not to visit any other buildings apart from the one they live in. They should also not invite guests to their residences. People who are not residents in these buildings should not access them at all. Students who share a common food preparation area are advised to limit the time they spend in this shared space and they should wear face coverings other than when they are eating.

The guidelines recommend that higher institutions create a one-way system or marked lanes in university buildings in order to separate the flow of people going in and out of them. Like any other indoor public event in the country, lecture halls can only have a maximum of 50 people inside. It is felt that it is not necessary for people’s temperatures to be taken before accessing campus. Staff and students are advised to avoid or minimise the sharing of personal items such as pens or phones and food or beverages with each other.

It is believed that it should be feasible for a two metre distance to be maintained between students and staff under almost all circumstances. In exceptional circumstances, in which staff members need to be less than two metres from students, it is advised that they wear a face shield, visor or another kind of protective equipment. These will be provided by the Irish Higher Education Institutions.

The Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in HEIs were published by Minister Simon Harris yesterday. Harris tweeted this morning that “the safety of students and staff is the overriding priority.” He said that the Department of Higher and Further Education had provided significant additional funding, a framework for returning to onsite learning and public health advice to assist institutions.

Brigid Molloy – Reporter