Update on COVID-19

06 March 2020 | Professor Loretta Feris

Dear colleagues and students

Following previous communications, I am aware that the University of Cape Town (UCT) community – like all people – will be concerned about the Minister of Health’s announcement on South Africa’s first confirmed case of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The UCT executive urges all students and staff to remain calm and continue to practise infection prevention control measures, such as good personal hand hygiene and cough etiquette.

The National Department of Health and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases are making use of surveillance systems with screening equipment that is used globally. The Western Cape Department of Health pronounced its state of readiness for a potential case in this province earlier this week, and a public hotline (08600 029 999) has been established.

The current indicators of a possible COVID-19 case include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • a cough
  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat, with or without fever
  • presenting with a severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) of unknown cause.

Possible risk factors include having recently travelled to a country with ongoing community transmission, exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, or having worked in a healthcare facility that houses COVID-19 patients. The particularly high-risk countries include China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Hong Kong. The number of cases in Germany, France, Japan, Spain and the United States have shown marked increases in recent days.

The university has set up a UCT business continuity management coordinating committee – the COVID-19 Coordinating Committee (CCC) – which is responsible for responding to the outbreak. The committee is chaired by UCT’s chief operating officer, Dr Reno Morar. It is tasked with continued close monitoring of any developments around COVID-19 and is working in partnership with the Department of Health, the NICD, the Western Cape Department of Health, and other spheres and agencies of government. The committee will update the UCT community regularly.

While UCT has not implemented any general travel restrictions for students and staff, we draw attention to the following:

  • All travel by students and staff (while not restricted) should be agreed to only in essential circumstances. Staff and students are urged to consider postponing or cancelling all non-essential travel. Travel to high-risk destinations (currently including China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan and Hong Kong) is most strongly discouraged, and it should be noted that UCT’s insurance provider has confirmed that with immediate effect (4 March 2020) no cover will be afforded to staff and students travelling to high-risk areas. Travel prior to this date will still be covered. Please familiarise yourself with the risk areas by visiting the websites of:
  • In terms of academics and students who are returning to UCT following international travel, UCT urges that these individuals self-isolate as per the advice from the NICD. [*]
  • In terms of receiving visitors at UCT, all UCT staff and students are requested to consider postponement of non-essential visits. All visits from high-risk areas should be postponed. Where essential visits continue (from non-high-risk areas), please ensure that the NICD guidelines are followed as a precautionary measure.

We encourage all students, staff and visitors to take the following precautions against all pathogens:

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • stay at home when you feel sick
  • cover your mouth (using a tissue or an elbow) when coughing or sneezing
  • avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • increasingly clean all surfaces that are frequently touched
  • carry a small alcohol hand sanitizer (containing ≥60% alcohol).

If you are experiencing symptoms and have recently travelled, please report to your nearest hospital and contact the NICD on 0800 029 999. Please also self-isolate.

We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates.

If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.


Professor Loretta Feris
Acting Vice-Chancellor

* Please note: Staff and student travellers returning to South Africa from an area with community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 who have no symptoms (asymptomatic) can return to activities of daily life while carefully monitoring themselves for symptoms. If symptoms develop, they are to self-isolate immediately and implement measures to prevent transmission, including meticulous hand and respiratory hygiene. They must immediately make contact with their medical practitioner or SWS health practitioner to seek healthcare.

Updates will be posted on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 feature page on the UCT News website.

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