Infectologist: Universities a high COVID-19 risk in Latvia

The Ministry of Health's main infectologist and epidemiologist Uga Dumpis has expressed concern that an outbreak of COVID-19 could be facilitated by the resumption of learning on-site, Latvian Radio reported September 2

Dumpis particularly highlighted universities, because students not only learn together, but are active in public life, relaxing together, and dancing in university dance groups, singing in choirs and working together in different groups. All of this poses a higher risk of infection, and experience in other countries around the world shows this, Dumpis said.

He said that there are things that cannot be learned remotely, but it is important that classes on-site should be organised as little as possible.

Dumpis said that the risk was not the study process as such, because the premises would certainly respect all the precautionary principles, but that students were very socially active, and experience in the world showed that they were not too successful in complying with the distancing rules outside the premises.

“For example, if there has been a party and then the infected come to a lecture where there are 50 people, this could lead to an outbreak,” explained Dumpis.

“You just have to avoid doing unnecessarily risky things,” the infectologist said. “The choir is the same - people from different places, different jobs, from different faculties, for example, come together in a big pack and sing, which is a high risk.”

Jurijs Perevoščikovs, director of the Department for Disease Risk Analysis and Prevention, at the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC), agreed that risks exist, but decisions are taken on the basis of the current situation, so neither onsite studies nor interest education should be prevented at this time. However, it is important to follow the precautionary rules.

Representatives of the largest Latvian higher education institutions indicate that the study process will take place in a mixed way.

For example, at Rīga Stradiņš University, studies onsite will be resumed only on 5 October, and only those lessons that cannot be performed remotely. The lectures will continue to be conducted remotely.

Rīga Technical University also plans to act in a similar way. The choirs and folk dance ensembles will also resume work at both universities, but they will have to meet the epidemiological requirements.

The University of Latvia plans the same – there are opportunities to work remotely.

“We will nevertheless organize the studies on site as far as possible. But the university has laid down criteria in which cases it can be done remotely. So if there are big groups, more than 50 students and not enough rooms,” said Agnese Līgotne, director of the LU study department.

Experts and academics indicated that the current system was not written in stone. Therefore, if the epidemiological situation deteriorates, the education process could be subject to stricter restrictions.

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