A group of American students on their way to Ireland to partake in a study-abroad programme have had their plans cancelled mid-journey due to the coronavirus epidemic.
The party of 15 history students and three tutors from Mercyhurst University in Eerie, Pennsylvania was heading to Dungarva, Co Waterford, to spend their spring semester in the region.
The trip was the 11th such annual arrangement between the west Waterford town and the college, whereby the visitors spend eight weeks embedded in the local community.
The group had flown from Buffalo to Newark, New Jersey prior to boarding a plane to Dublin when the trip was abandoned.
Dean of global programmes at Mercyhurst, Heidi Hosey-McGurk says the US Centre for Disease Control issued a directive “advising institutions of higher education to cancel study abroad programmes and bring their students home”.
Ms Hosey-McGurk says the students had been “very excited by the trip and are devastated”.
She said: “all our students who have visited Dungarvan regard it as one of the best occasions in their lives. Many of them regard Dungarvan as a second home and return afterwards”.
The dean thinks it unlikely that the students can travel to Ireland within the eight-week semester window, especially given the unchartered territory of the coronovirus. “It’s ramping up as opposed to decreasing in the US”, she says, adding that a rearrangement for the autumn “may be considered”.
The cancellation is a serious blow to a local economy already reeling from a virus-related downturn. The owner of one local catering outlet described the situation as “a growing disaster” or the trade.
Dungarvan and West Waterford Chamber of Commerce CEO Jenny Beresford said the cancellation is “a very unfortunate development for the town, economically and culturally”.
She adds that “the link with Mercyhurst and the east coast generally is very important to maintain”.
The CEO said the students are inevitably “enthusiastic participants in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and assist with overseeing Dungarvan’s annual Festival of Food as well as partaking in other community events. We look forward to the next trip, whenever it occurs”.