One thing that has been done is drawing up a list of events due to take place at the university in the near future where more than fifty participants are expected. “A preventive measure,” says Nick Bos, Vice President of the Executive Board, who is in charge of the crisis management team, which will enable the university to take measures quickly if the coronavirus threatens to get out of hand. But for the time being, everything can go ahead. At the same time, organisations receive so many cancellations from speakers and participants that they decide to postpone the event anyway.
One event is the Women in Science symposium by research institute GROW, about gender inequality in science, which was supposed to have taken place in Maastricht last Monday. This was prompted by the cancellation of TEFAF professor Laurence Zitvogel and her predecessor Lisa Coussens. Both women, one from France, the other from the United States, said they wouldn’t come because of a negative travel advisory. Many participants had also cancelled because of the coronavirus. Among them many MUMC employees, according to GROW, who complied with the hospital’s appeal to avoid meetings. The symposium has now been postponed to the beginning of 2021. Another event that will be held later, is the ‘Meertaligheid op laaggeschoolde werkplekken in grensregio’s’ (Multilingualism in Low-skilled Workplace in Border Regions) conference on Thursday, 12 March, organised by Statistics Netherlands and ITEM (Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross border cooperation and Mobility). One of the organisers, PhD candidate Daan Hovens: “It is better to announce the cancellation yourself on time than being forced to do so one day before.” They also experienced cancellations. “We do not want a hall that’s only half filled.”
The UM currently (Wednesday, 11 March) has one person who has tested positive for the coronavirus: it is a female 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, the staff member is doing well. The symptoms of the disease are “mild”.
The UM advises anyone who is suffering from a cold, has a fever and has recently returned from a known risk area (including the town of Gangelt in Germany, across the border near Sittard), or who has had contact with a Covid-19-infected person, to stay at home until 24 hours after any symptoms have disappeared. In addition, the university makes a special appeal to employees and students from the Dutch province of Brabant (an area where the virus has infected many) to stay at home in case of a cold, coughing or fever.
As far as MUMC 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, “unless it is necessary for patient care and the continuation of the care system,” explains press officer Nieky van Steenkiste.
This prompts another question: How is the hospital dealing with the scarcity of protective materials, such as face masks and disinfectants? VSNU, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, asked the education minister at the end of February whether this scarcity would affect the clinical education of Medicine programmes. According to Van Steenkiste, the protective materials in the Maastricht hospital are “only available” for those “who are indispensable for patient care”. In practice, this means that trainees and interns “cannot carry out any direct tasks at the bedside, for example with quarantined patients, or in operating theatres when face masks or disinfectants are required”.