Eight hundred students demanding the immediate suspension of classes at the University of the West Indies have been turned down by management at the Cave Hill Campus despite fears of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday evening high-level officials declared that the current situation in Barbados does not justify such drastic measures.
In fact, in the absence of a single confirmed case on the island, it appears there will be no adjustments to celebrations for UWI Carnival slated for early next month, despite a decision to indefinitely postpone the annual celebration in Jamaica.
A panel headed by Deputy Principal, Professor Winston Moore and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Dr Kenneth Connell delivered the news to students during a COVID-19 information session in a packed lecture room at the campus’ Clico Building. The event was live-streamed on the University’s social media pages and attracted well over 300 views.
The decisions were made despite the launch of a petition on change.org titled Close the Cave Hill Campus amid COVID-19 Crisis which had attracted over 860 signatures at the time of publication. It demanded that campus administration take “necessary steps” to protect students before the virus inevitably reaches Barbados.
But Dr Connell, a lecturer in Clinical Pharmacology and Consultant Physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital declared that although the UWI Mona campus has closed its doors for a month, Cave Hill’s response would be “territory-specific”.
He explained that given Barbados’ alert level for the virus is still at stage zero, officials could not justify closing the campus in the absence of a directive from the UWI’s headquarters in Jamaica.
“Countries have done this experiment of shutting everything down two weeks before and have failed. There is public health evidence as to when these procedures are to be implemented and there are not driven by online petitions,” said Dr Connell.
“You would not institute phase two or three procedures at stage zero, because you dilute resources, you exhaust healthcare professionals, everything gets chaotic and we have seen examples of this in other countries,” he added.
Barbados TODAY recently reported that preparations were being made to move all classes online in the event of a public health emergency in Barbados. Professor Moore confirmed this indicating that all lecturers have been asked to prepare a backup plan. Nevertheless, he stressed that no such steps would be taken unless a case of the virus is confirmed in Barbados.
Meanwhile, Dr Connell outlined three public health directives which include proper handwashing, avoid touching and social distancing. Despite the call for social distancing, he said no restrictions would be placed on social events, like UWI Carnival.
“In terms of social events, the campus has been very clear about following the national authority guidelines which are in line with PAHO [Pan American Health Organisation] and WHO [World Health Organisation] protocols. We haven’t just taken a chaotic decision to cancel carnival. It has been very strategic and evidence-based. The cancellation of public events under national guidelines falls under stage three or phase three of the protocols and we are at stage zero. So it’s unlikely if an event is next week that it is going to be cancelled,” he said.