STUDENTS face being expelled from college if they flaunt Covid-19 health guidelines, authorities have warned after crowds of young people threw street parties in Galway and Cork.
It comes as investigators are set to start a new probe next week to pinpoint where people are picking up Covid-19 — with patients set to be quizzed about their recent movements.
Hundreds of young people gathered in city centres in Galway and Cork on Monday to celebrate Freshers’ Week — which marks the start of term for first year students.
Cops were called to a dozen house parties as well as three major gatherings near the NUI Galway college campus.
One video taken in Galway on Monday night shows hundreds of students crowded together at the Spanish Arch.
In Cork, gardai broke up five house parties where there were between 20 to 40 people crammed into student-style accommodation.
University College Cork’s Student Union refused to cancel Freshers Week celebrations despite the rise in coronavirus cases in the city threatening to push the county into level three lockdown.
Videos of the crowded street parties sparked outrage today with one publican calling for the Army to be brought in to control the streets of the city.
NUIG today issued a warning to students that they face punishments — which could include expulsion — if they are found to be flaunting Covid-19 rules.
They claimed the party scenes were deplorable and today held a meeting with gardai and local authorities to discuss cracking down on the gatherings.
An NUIG spokesperson said: “While the vast majority of our students are doing their utmost to stay safe and help prevent the spread of Covid-19, we will not hesitate in dealing with any breaches of public health guidelines in line with our Student Code of Conduct — which has penalties up to and including expulsion.”
A similar warning was issued to students at UCC where 22,000 people returned to Cork City to study.
Galway Senator Ollie Crowe claimed the Army should be brought in to assist gardai to crack down on large crowds in the city.
The Fianna Fail Senator told RTE: “The Gardai are under enormous pressure. I think it’s appropriate for Government to examine how we can allocate additional resources to the Gardai.
“As an army town here in Galway, I’ve no doubt the officers stationed there would pitch in and assist the Gardai if required.”
A number of Galway city councillors also called on off-licenses to close early in order to prevent people crowding the streets.
It comes as the head of the HSE Paul Reid today issued a stark warning that Ireland will be hit by “subsequent waves” of the virus in the coming months.
He declared: “The reality is that we will be dealing with Covid-19 for a long time yet.”
HSE Chief Executive Reid appeared in front of the Dail’s Covid-19 Committee where he was grilled about Ireland’s testing and tracing programme which is set to cost the State €450million this year and €700million in 2021.
In a grim warning to the Committee, the HSE boss said Ireland will be dealing with the Coronavirus crisis for a long time even if a successful vaccine is found.
Mr Reid also warned that the number of people being admitted to hospital with the virus is on the rise as Ireland faces into the busy winter season.
He added: “A difficult winter season, coupled with a resurgence in Covid-19, is the worst possible scenario for our health services.”
There were 117 Covid-19 cases in Irish hospitals today with 17 people fighting for their lives in intensive care units.
A further 121 suspected cases are also in hospitals awaiting confirmation. The health service boss revealed the boom in demand for tests in recent weeks due to outbreaks across the country has pushed the HSE system to the limit.
He warned if the virus continues to spread as rapidly as it has in recent weeks, the health service will need more testing capacity.
Some 87,940 tests were carried out across the country, with Ireland now doing more testing per capita than Germany, France and Italy.
Some 15,381 contact tracing calls were completed last week — the highest number the HSE has done to date in the pandemic.
The current average turnaround time from swab to contact tracing for a community-based Covid case is now running at 3.5 days.
However, Sinn Fein’s health spokesman David Cullinane told the HSE boss that this turnaround time “falls short and needs to be better, needs to be sharper”.
Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said that schools are not being told by the HSE about confirmed cases among students and claimed one teacher was left five days waiting to hear back from the health service after she was confirmed as a close contact to a case.
Dublin Fingal TD Louise O’Reilly revealed three students were told their flatmate was a confirmed case but were left waiting seven days to find out if they should be tested.
Mr Reid said the HSE is currently looking at securing additional equipment to slash the turnaround time and increase testing capacity — that will include the assistance of robots. The HSE are currently on a recruitment drive to hire 700 more staff for swabbing tests and 500 more contact tracers.
This will bring the combined strength of Ireland’s test and tracing programme up to between 2,500 and 3,000 people.
In a bid to learn more about where people are picking up the virus, the health service will kick off a new deep investigation programme next week.
Currently, people who test positive for Covid-19 are asked about their movements over the last 48 hours and for close contacts details.
However, from next week on, a new team will examine community transmission cases where doctors are unable to link their infection to another confirmed case.
People who pick up the virus through community transmission will now be asked to fill out a new diary-style contact tracing form to track down where they may have picked up the infection.
Following questions by Social Democrat Roisin Shortall, Paul Reid revealed the HSE are working with NPHET on a new Enhanced Retrospective Tracing programme.
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The HSE has approval for 158 new public health staff who will track down where people are picking up the virus in the first place.
The HPSC currently record settings of outbreaks with 1,263 open outbreaks now in private homes.
Director of the HSPC Dr John Cuddihy said the enhanced tracing project will kick off in community transmission cases next week before being implemented into our contact tracing programme.