A two-metre social distancing rule will be put into effect on university campuses that re-open this autumn.
The two-metre rule, advised by the State’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to stop the spread of Covid-19, is at odds with University College Dublin (UCD)’s plan to implement one-metre social distancing in September.
UCD recently stated that, in compliance with public health guidelines, “most undergraduate students will be in classrooms around 40-60% of the normal schedule, with most graduate students having between 75 and 100% of normal classroom time”. It is understood that these figures are based on the implementation of one-metre social distancing on campus, which UCD envisages as the “most likely scenario” this autumn. This scenario is based on revised social distancing guidelines which have been brought in for public transport, restaurants, and pubs.
According to The Irish Times, universities have agreed that the two-metre requirement will likely result in the majority of lectures being held online. The social distancing rules that apply to universities allow for small group work to take place in-person where appropriate PPE is worn, such as face shields or masks.
Academics at UCD were asked a number of weeks ago by the University Management Team (UMT) to revise teaching plans for Autumn 2020 to accommodate for the one-metre distancing rule. An academic source from the University indicated that they had not yet been instructed to revise their plans following the increasing likelihood of the two-metre requirement.
Before UCD announced their expectation of a reduction in the social distancing guidelines, it was requested that each School develop plans for room selection and timetables following the two-metre rule. The deadline for submission of timetables was extended following the UMT’s advice to revise timetable under the one-metre guideline. Academic sources previously indicated to The College Tribune that they were unsatisfied with the University’s last-minute decision to change their plans.
Following the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris’s publication of a detailed Further and Higher Education roadmap on July 22nd, it is also expected that universities will follow strict hygiene protocols as students make a gradual return to campus. The Department of Education and Skills’ referred to the requirement for social distancing in a statement, saying: “Physical distancing is not about keeping people apart, it is about keeping people at a safe distance in order that they might work together and optimum on-site delivery remains a priority for all institutions and providers.”
UCD has not responded to The College Tribune’s request for comment at time of publishing.
Isobel Dunne – Reporter