KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 13, 2020 (CMC) – The Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Hilary Beckles, has announced the suspension of “all face-to-face teaching” at the Mona campus, here, until April 14, as the region reacts to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, where two of the UWI campuses are also located, confirmed, this week, cases of the virus that has killed more than 4,200 people, in more than 110 countries, since it was first detected in China, last December.
Sir Hilary said that the UWI has been at the forefront of the monitoring, preparedness and response to the threat of the virus, and “we are now faced with the reality of confirmed cases in the Caribbean, and within our campus territories”.
“As we stand in solidarity and ensure our readiness, within reason, for the likelihood that this disease may spread, I thought it necessary to provide an update on our response, how to cope, preventative measures and the way forward, based on what we know now,” the Chancellor explained.
Sir Hilary said, given that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global pandemic, and the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Public Health Agency’s (CARPHA) that the Caribbean should now transition to a “readiness” phase, he wanted to assure all stakeholders, including academic staff and students, “that the University has been proactively planning, with priority attention to your health and welfare”.
“Not only has a UWI COVID-19 Task Force been commissioned, with the remit of providing overarching guidance in coordinating UWI’s internal readiness and response to the COVID-19, simultaneously, Campus COVID-19 Management Teams have also been established, across the university’s five campuses and regional headquarters,” he added.
Sir Hilary said that collectively, these teams are positioned to activate their response plans, working in close collaboration with national ministries of health and regional health authorities, as necessary.
“Entities like the University Hospital of the West Indies, in Jamaica, have put, in place, robust protocols and procedures to treat persons, who may become ill. I want to encourage us, as a Caribbean community, to maintain strong solidarity and avoid all stigmatising behaviour. We remain in this together, and our fight is a collective one.”
Regarding the closure of any of the campuses and/or university facilities, Sir Hilary said “We will continue to be guided by our regional authorities, on the basis of specific country scenarios.
“Where necessary, there is the provisioning for the transitioning, from face-to-face modalities to online teaching, as far as is possible. Business continuity plans will also allow for the remote operations of administrative functions, to support critical operations.
“Noting that we are approaching end of semester, the possible implication on examinations, has been considered: flexible protocols have been determined and will be activated, should the need arise.
“Specifically, addressing the situation at our Mona Campus, at this time, the decision has been made to suspend all face-to-face teaching, effective March 13, 2020 until April 14, 2020. All other administrative and business operations at the Mona Campus continue, as usual, until otherwise notified. Meanwhile, our sister campuses, in other Caribbean territories, continue normal operations, without disruption,” the Vice Chancellor said.
He related, also, that throughout the University, a decision has also been taken “to, with immediate effect, cancel all major conferences and postpone any large gatherings on our respective campuses.
“As part of our broader regional public health and institutional responsibility program, the University is also advising that colleagues postpone participation in any international academic obligations, until further notice. In cases, where study and travel grants apply, persons are asked to liaise with their respective Campus Principal and administration, on the procedures to be followed to have grants refunded, or reserved, for use at a later date,” he advised.
Sir Hilary said that it is “understandable to have some anxiety among members of our community at this time, but I urge the need to remain calm and exercise sensible precautions, as advised by local health ministries and other relevant agencies.
“It is important to remember that this is a virus, whose transmission can be suppressed, or interrupted, by following public health advice. I’m sure you already know the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are: fever, dry cough, tiredness, and shortness of breath.
“If you suspect that you may be ill, or are experiencing any of these symptoms, or know someone who might be, please follow the guidelines of your local public health or campus authorities,” Sir Hilary said, adding “to borrow the phrase from Task Force Chairman, Professor Clive Landis, I am confident that “together we will get through this”.