University College Cork's (UCC) Student Union President has welcomed the Tánaiste's comments on return to campus later this year and said the move will have mutual benefits for the local economy as well as the mental health and wellbeing of the academic community.
Speaking on Wednesday, Leo Varadkar said he would hope to see the “vast majority” of coronavirus restrictions removed by August with “kids going back to school as normal in September, college happening on campus, all those things and a pretty normal Christmas in terms of seeing our friends and relations."
News that students could be back in campus this autumn was welcomed by UCC Student Union President Naoise Crowley.
“While online learning has some positive elements, it is simply not a replacement for on-campus lectures, with isolation and mental health concerns undoubtedly being exacerbated over the past year,” he said.
Mr Crowley said it was important that the Government keep their finger on the pulse in relation to the issue.
“Communication by government with third-level students has been lacking on many occasions this year, we can not see a repeat situation for the coming academic year. As such, we will be following up with the Department to ensure regular updates are provided to students over the coming weeks and months.”
The UCC SU President said that students play a massive role in the local economy and community, raising upwards of €250,000 for charity.
“UCC students also have a direct expenditure of approximately €187 million each year, creating more than 5,000 local jobs in Cork. A return of students to campus will also provide a much-needed boost to the local economy, at a time where many shops, restaurants and pubs have been closed for months on end.”
However, while the Tánaiste was upbeat about a return to normality in the late summer, he warned that nothing can be promised when it comes to a new virus, and he believes restrictions on international travel and gatherings indoors will continue into the autumn.
He said case numbers are stable and hospital and intensive care numbers are falling, adding if he was working in hospitality he would be planning for outdoor dining in June and indoor dining by July.
“What I am looking at very closely is what is happening in countries that are a bit ahead of us in terms of vaccination, the United Kingdom and Israel, and life in Israel is pretty much back to normal, they’re welcoming tourists again and they’re having not very large gatherings, but they are having mass gatherings,” he said.
He added: “This is a new virus which is only around a year or so and the vaccines aren’t even around a year.
“It’s possible that the efficacy of the vaccines could wear off after a certain point in time, we don’t know what might happen in terms of variants that may be vaccine resistant and we don’t know what will happen when the winter comes.
“I think we have to get through another winter to be sure, but I do think life would be pretty much normal in August and September, but not exactly normal. I think there will still be restrictions around international travel and mass gatherings, particularly indoors. That’s my best guess.”