RCSI to bring forward exams amid concern over spread of coronavirus
State exams body taking Department of Health advice over Junior and Leaving Cert
A spokeswoman for Queen’s University said it would closely monitor the situation and was providing online guidance for staff and students. Photograph: Press Eye
The RCSI is to bring forward final examinations for medical students amid concerns over the spread of the Coronavirus, Covid-19.
The examinations which were to be held towards the end of April will take place this weekend.
The Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland said on Thursday that it had taken the move to avoid any delays in the graduation of the final year class this year as a result of any restrictions that could be put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“As part of responsible business continuity, RCSI has been considering how to maintain educational activities if any restrictions were placed on travel or attending classes or examinations,” it said in a statement.
“Much of the current education and exams activity could be conducted online. We have taken a decision to move forward one element of the final year medicine exams. This exam is a mandatory requirement for final year students to be awarded their medical degree at the end of May. The exam has been brought forward in order to ensure that there is no delay in the graduation of the Class of 2020 because of any restrictions that could be put in place as a response to Covid-19.”
The State exams body, meanwhile, says it is taking Department of Health advice over the scheduling of the Junior and Leaving Cert exams in response to the coronavirus threat.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the State Examinations Commission said it has a longstanding policy of engaging with school authorities to make any alternative arrangements that may be required for students.
She said many kinds of exceptional circumstances arise in schools each year in relation to the completion of coursework and the conduct of the oral and practical performance tests.
Queen’s Queen’s University Belfastm has said it will remain open and is “operating as normal” following news that a student tested positive for the Coronavirus.
Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann said on Wednesday that the North remained in “containment phase” after it was confirmed that two more people had tested positive for the virus including a Queen’s student who had recently returned from northern Italy.
A spokeswoman for Queen’s told The Irish Times that the university had convened its “major incident team” and was putting in place contingency measures which would be communicated to staff and students “when appropriate”.
She said the university would “closely monitor the situation” and was providing “online guidance for staff and students” while encouraging all members of the university community to follow the latest official guidance from the Public Health Agency and other relevant authorities.
“The university remains open and is operating as normal,” she said.
Universities across the island of Ireland are drawing up contingency plans on how to continue with lectures and examinations in the event that a student or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus.
Queen’s University became the first major institution to be affected by the virus on Wednesday. However, with a total of nine cases now confirmed on the island of Ireland, fears are mounting that the spread of the virus will quickly lead to major disruptions nationwide.
A spokesperson for Trinity College said an expert working group had been meeting once a week since January to assess the situation regarding Covid-19, and from this week would meet twice weekly.
“Trinity will not be making any decisions regarding mass gatherings and closures, as we will be guided by the HPSC (Health Protection Surveillance Centre) on the management of any confirmed case[s] and attempts to minimise the virus,” said the spokesperson.
“Trinity is continuing to explore options for the online delivery of course content and assessments, as well as considering a range of other accommodations that may be put in place to ensure that students are able to complete their studies for this academic year,” he said.
The Technological University (TU) of Dublin has also set up a Covid-19 monitoring group which is meeting regularly and is working on the contingency measures that will be implemented should HSE health advice change, said a spokeswoman.
TU Dublin remains open, is operating as normal and has provided guidance to students and staff on how to contain the spread of the virus, she said.
A spokeswoman for DCU said the university had “put all necessary measures in place to address the current risks” and that any decision to curtail activities on campus would be taken following “careful risk assessment and dialogue” with the HSE.
The university has convened an emergency planning team and says it is putting in touch contingency measures from an “academic and operational perspective”.
In an email sent out earlier this week, University of Limerick president Des Fitzgerald called on staff and students to take “personal responsibility to isolate yourself if you develop any signs of the disease”. He noted that UL students who had recently returned from Italy had received advice and support and advised against any travel to the affected areas.
Like other institutions, the UL has set up a “major incident committee” in response to the global outbreak.
“This situation is undoubtedly a worrying one for you and your families,” wrote the president. “However, we see that the disease is plateauing in China and the rate of new cases is being outpaced by the rate of recovery, albeit with the imposition of strict public health measures . . . we need to take responsibility at UL to prevent the infection establishing itself here and to take any measures necessary to protect our community.”
All universities contacted were asked whether they had commenced conducting lectures online to reduce footfall on campus. While most have planned for this eventuality, none have moved their lecture programme online yet.