MAASTRICHT. Last Tuesday, three Italian students launched a petition in which they urge Maastricht University to close its doors because of the coronavirus. Within twenty hours, it was signed more than a thousand times. But for the time being, closure is not on the cards. Students in Randwyck are already noticing the effects of the stricter measures in the hospital. They are called on to avoid the MUMC as much as possible; interns are not allowed in the operating theatres until further notice.
Maastricht University students Benedetta Di Cesare, Vasco De Mauro en Clementina Rolando believe that the actions that have been taken by this university so far are insufficient. They launched a petition on the website change.org on Tuesday afternoon in which they call for stricter measures. They’re “extremely worried” about the lack of awareness in the Netherlands and refer to the distressing situation in their home country Italy. There, all universities and schools will remain closed until at least 3 April.
“Sending updates about the number of infected in Maastricht will fail as a strategy to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Whereas taking proactive action might accomplish something”, they write in an e-mail. “We suggest that the physical facilities of Maastricht University shut down as soon as possible.” According to them, this could also send “a strong message to central institutions and the government to begin the prevention earlier in the stage of contagion”.
Lectures, tutorial meetings and exams at the UM are still taking place. The decision to close down is not for the Executive Board to make anyway. Even if they wanted to do so in Maastricht – which is not the case yet – this could only be done after advice from the Area Health Authority (GGD) or a decision by the mayor. This is what the education ministry instructed for all educational institutions last Monday. Without such advice, they should simply provide education “in line with the funding conditions”.
Christian Hoebe, professor at the UM and head of infectious disease control for the Zuid Limburg Health Authority thinks that it is primarily a “collective responsibility”, in which a university, local authorities and the GGD get together. In addition, he expects that far-reaching measures, such as the closure of universities, would come from national government in The Hague, rather than from local authorities, because this is a so-called a-disease (which gives the government the right to impose ‘imperative measures’).
With regard to the student petition, Hoebe says: “I understand their concerns. The situation in Italy is a nightmare, which we hope won’t manifest itself in the Netherlands. At the moment, we are not at that stage yet. Closure is not on the cards now.”
As far as MUMC, the hospital which is linked to the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life sciences (buildings are connected, students work in the hospital as interns, staff works at both places) is concerned: all events, conferences and receptions until 1 April have been cancelled. In addition, staff is “strongly discouraged” from attending symposia or meetings both in the Netherlands and abroad, explains MUMC-press officer Nieky van Steenkiste. Students and employees of FHML are asked to avoid the hospital as much as possible. They can no longer use the staff restaurant and have to walk outside if they don’t have to be in the hospital. For this reason, only the corridors with the hospital on level 1 of Universiteitssingel 50 are currently open. All other passages are closed.
Furthermore, trainees and interns cannot carry out any direct tasks (for example in operating theatres) when face masks or disinfectants are required. According to Van Steenkiste, the protective materials in the Maastricht hospital are “only available” for those “who are indispensable for patient care”.
The UM currently (Wednesday, 11 March) has one person who has tested positive for the coronavirus: it is a postdoc who works at the department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering and lives in Aachen. She has stayed at home by way of precaution, having probably contracted the infection in Germany. At that time, she did not yet show any symptoms. According to Nick Bos, Vice President of the Executive Board, who is in charge of the crisis management team, the staff member is doing well. The symptoms of the disease are “mild”.