Cork students defend virtual freshers week against 'shocking irresponsibility' claims

Cork students defend virtual freshers week against 'shocking irresponsibility' claims

A very quiet campus at UCC as students returned to college but most had online lectures. File picture: Dan Linehan

Student leaders at UCC have defended virtual freshers week activities and rejected claims it shows “shocking irresponsibility” in the face of a pandemic.

The president of UCC students’ union, Naoise Crowley, said some reports of what was planned had created a level of hysteria “that was not justified”, saying that the moving of entertainment events online was in line with the public health response.

He also said there is no evidence to suggest that such events, which include online DJ sets, would lead to large gatherings of students.

“I recognise that local residents had a difficult summer but everything we are organising online is consistent with public health guidelines in relation to entertainment. I don’t see why this is such an issue,” he said. 

He made his comments as Cork GP Dr Ronan Boland, said he would be very surprised if the city is not moved to Level 3 of the Government’s restriction framework soon, and warned that on Sunday, just three intensive care beds were available between the city’s two main hospitals for a population of half a million.

“The capacity is not there to deal with any surge of normal illness, let alone Covid-19,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

He said he and colleagues are concerned about “an upsurge of small [coronavirus] fires breaking out” in the city and surrounding towns over the last 10 days.

Each one has the capacity to “spread like fire” and to become a bigger problem, he said.

He also expressed concern about the behaviour of people congregating in groups, indoors and outdoors, being “disinhibited” with alcohol.

News that the virtual freshers week events are going ahead was greeted with dismay by residents who campaigned against Covid-19 house parties in rented properties around UCC during lockdown.

Spokesperson Catherine Clancy said it “shows a real disconnect” between the student’s union on how the event is impacting residents and how it could facilitate the spread of Covid-19.

Covid-19 doesn’t do virtual. 

"The fact is that if the virus figures in Cork keep rising, and the city moves to Level 3, it is students and young people who will bear the brunt of the increased restrictions — all that for the sake of a four-day party,” she said.

However, Mr Crowley said the union has actively promoted the Union of Students in Ireland public health campaign, Keep it Small, Keep it Safe, Keep Your Distance.

Earlier, UCC students' union welfare officer, Jamie Fraser, slated college authorities for cancelling the Student Community Support (SCS) used to fund student patrols.

Branding the move “an absolute disgrace”, he said: “Using this as a political move in an attempt to coerce the SU [union] into cancelling a virtual week is disturbing."

UCC said the decision was taken with the welfare of the volunteers in mind. 

“At a time when the acting chief medical officer is urging us all to minimise our social contacts, UCC felt it was not appropriate to roll out the initiative at this time," it said. 

The initiative will return when it is safe to do so, a spokesman said.

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