GAFS - COVID-19 Updates

Situation Update (15 September 2021)

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of our entire 2020 and 2021 seasons, but vaccines are now being distributed worldwide and we are currently planning for a great Summer 2022! We expect international travel restrictions to be eased considerably before May 2022, and so we currently believe that we will be able to run our 2022 season as planned. In order to protect each other and the communities within which we live and work, we will require all students and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before course commencement in May 2022.

In the meantime, we will continue to track COVID-19 case figures, vaccination rates, and travel restrictions, and we will disseminate this information to prospective students via this webpage and via email updates through our 2022 Mailing List. Here is a graphic showing the 7-day rolling average of new cases per 100k in Ireland, in the UK (our nearest neighbour), and in the USA and Canada, the two countries where most of our students come from:

The Irish government currently requires all passengers arriving into Ireland to have a negative or ‘not detected’ COVID-19 RT-PCR test not more than 72 hours before their arrival in Ireland. Passengers arriving from all non-EU/EEA countries are requested to restrict their movements for 14 days and, furthermore, mandatory 12-day hotel quarantine remains in place for all travellers arriving from six South American countries, and for all travellers arriving from any country without a valid negative PCR test, though fully vaccinated travellers may seek an exemption from the mandatory hotel quarantine requirement. Canada and the USA were on Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine list for several months, but were removed from the list on 18 June and 28 May respectively.

After a slow start, the Irish vaccination programme is running very well and the percentage of residents now fully vaccinated has recently surpassed comparable vaccination rates in the USA, the UK, Canada, and the EU average.

Proposed Strategy

UPDATE – We have cancelled our 2021 season due to COVID-19, but our proposed strategy, as written prior to cancellation, was as follows:

Firstly, we have delayed our booking schedule for Summer 2021 and have advised all students to adopt a wait-and-see strategy. A handful of students have booked already, but we still have about 15 spots available in each session so there is no need to rush. We continue to stress that booking is not necessary in the short term – we would rather wait until we have weathered the coming storm and then take lots of bookings in mid-March/April.

With regard to the procedures we may adopt for the summer, we are considering our options on several fronts:

    • If a vaccine is available, we may require documentary proof of vaccination
    • We may require documentary proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the days before travel
    • We may require students to arrive 14 days before their course starts in order to enter an isolation period

These are only options – we may require some, all, or none of them depending on the circumstances prevailing at the time. We are likely to give students options, since we are not comfortable with the idea of ‘mandatory’ vaccinations – for example, we may allow vaccinated students to join courses as normal, whereas non-vaccinated students may be required to arrive 14 days early, self-isolate for two weeks and provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test.

We may require everyone to wear masks in our bus (our van in North American terminology). We may seek to limit student numbers in our apartments, putting 2 or 3 students in each 4-bed apartment, instead of the usual complement of 4.

The apartment complex where we house our students has 147 apartments, so there are options available to us. If students are required to isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Ireland, we will try to deploy a system whereby students can be housed in our student apartment complex for this period. They will be grouped in ‘pods’ of 2, 3 or 4 ‘isolating students’ and will be kept separate from ‘current students’. For example, while 10 students (in apartments 45, 46, and 52) are doing Session 1 in late May / early June, we could have 14 students (in apartments 8, 27, 61, and 112) isolating in pods for 14 days while waiting for Session 2 to start. Every student gets their own bedroom as usual, but each apartment will be shared with 1, 2 or 3 other students on the same course. The isolating students will be given advice on ordering food online, but they will have to remain in their apartments (apart from daily outdoor exercise, if possible). It doesn’t sound like much fun, but there is WiFi in each apartment, a TV, and lots of space for books! If 14-days of pre-course isolation is required, there will obviously be an additional cost for an extra 14 days accommodation, but we will keep this cost as low as possible and we are currently estimating it at €330 to €360.

I must stress that these are all possible courses of action – nothing will be finalised until mid-March or April at the earliest.

Booking and Refunds

UPDATE – We have cancelled our 2021 season due to COVID-19 and our refund programme is now underway. The advice we gave on Bookings and Refunds prior to the cancellation was as follows:

We usually encourage students to book their spot on their chosen course right away, but this year we are taking a more cautious approach. We suggest that booking before mid-March is not required, so let’s all wait a while and see how things pan out. If we see a huge increase in applications and begin to think that we may run out of spots, we will contact the applicants in the order in which they applied. For example, we will contact all the November applicants and encourage them to book, then wait a week to allow those bookings to come in before contacting all December applicants, and so on…

With regard to refunds on fees for cancellations, if we are forced to cancel a course due to COVID-19 restrictions (or any other international crisis that is outside of our control), we will offer 100% refunds to the students on that course. If we run a course as planned, but a student booked on that course cannot enter Ireland due to a government-imposed travel restriction, we will offer a 100% refund to that student. On the other hand, if a student opts to cancel their participation in a course, we will offer them our standard 90% refund (retaining 10% to cover administrative costs). This 90% refund is available up to 6 weeks before course commencement at a minimum – in 2020 we improved this offer to allow students to cancel closer to the start date (due to uncertainty caused by COVID) and we may do this again in 2021.