University of Limerick president Dr Des Fitzgerald says he expects it to be mid June before the coronavirus pandemic has peaked and normality resumes and he sees UL being used as a field hospital in the event of frontline medical services being overwhelmed.
As the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis escalates, Dr Fitzgerald has called on people to “take personal responsibility to try and slow down this virus and save lives”.
A cardiologist and former Professor of Molecular Medicine at UCD and Chief Academic Officer of the Ireland East Hospital Group, Dr Fitzgerald is mounting a campaign over social and traditional media to alert people up to the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and to reinforce the absolute necessity for immediate widespread adoption of social distancing.
The UL President has been in contact over the weekend with TDs, senior business people, media and civic leaders to ask them to join him in calling for the community of Limerick city and county to change their behaviour now and save lives.
“These are extraordinary times. We are facing the single biggest health crisis in living memory,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
“I am deeply concerned that people are not fully realising the severity of the situation and so are not changing their behaviour quickly enough.
“The government and health authorities are doing everything they can and those at the front line facing COVID-19 Coronavirus are performing incredible work.
“Those that are dealing directly with this crisis don’t have the luxury to self-isolate and reduce their personal contact - we owe it to those at the coalface to do everything we can to buy them enough time to deal with this crisis.
“We have a small window of time right now where we can really have an influence over how bad this gets. We still have a chance to flatten out the curve of this deadly virus and help to interrupt its march but we need to act now - today - this morning.
“UL is closed in the first instance until March 29. Let me be clear; I expect it to be at least mid-June before we return and after this pandemic hopefully peaks.
“It is likely before then that UL will play host to a field hospital as our frontline health services are potentially overwhelmed. We are currently working with the HSE to develop more sophisticated systems of contact tracing, with the inclusion of testing. This is further to the change in testing criteria in recent days.
“We are also working on a process of using mobile phone geolocation data to map individuals who may have come into contact with an individual with a positive diagnosis.
“We do not take these decisions lightly. None of us has ever faced anything like this in our lifetimes but we do have it within our power to influence how dire this does or does not become. Social gatherings are still taking place, and at a level where there is disregard for everyone’s public safety.
“People must take personal responsibility to try and slow down this virus and try to save lives. The announcement of the change in recent days in the testing criteria means there will be more testing and that will absolutely mean a lot more diagnoses that are positive – the virus is far more widespread than the number of positive tests would indicate now.
“We have to do anything and everything to stop this awful virus spreading. The professionals will do their part, so you must do your part. Stop this virus spreading - stay apart. People in Limerick must stop meeting, stop this disease - party when it is over, not now.
“What you do now will have an impact long into the future. We owe it to the sisters, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sons, mothers and fathers placing themselves in the way of this virus that is already spreading through our community.
“We must take action and by remaining apart, we stand together.”
Dr Fitzgerald added that people might consider keeping a daily diary of their contact with other people – this is a good way to make people more conscious of their personal contact with others.
“Stay active and keep going for walks and connect with people remotely via phone, or social media,” said the UL President.
“I have already heard a lot of incredible stories of communities coming together through social messaging platforms to stay connected and support each other. This is the only kind of community gathering we need right now,” he added.
In further comments made this Monday to Limerick Today on Live95fm, Dr Fitzgerald urged parents whose children are off school to keep their children at home, away from those who are elderly and vulnerable.
He said he does not know how long this outbreak will last for.
But he said Limerick could look East for hope, with the virus past its peak in China, where it originated.
"If we think about how long it's going to take, look to China. It will take many more weeks beyond what we have now," he added.
And he renewed his call for socially isolate where possible saying it will make a "huge difference".
"It's really important that people get this message to stop meeting. To act on the hygiene and social distancing advice," he told the radio show.
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