Dear parents and supporters of UCT students,
The University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa and the world are facing an unprecedented health emergency. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and a national disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
I write to inform you of some decisions that have been taken at our institution following Sunday’s address by President Ramaphosa and on the advice of a range of agencies and health specialists.
Classes suspended with immediate effect
UCT will break with immediate effect (Monday, 16 March 2020) for the Term 1 vacation, and classes are now suspended. This step is a precautionary, proactive measure to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19. The most important public health principle is containment of the disease, including avoiding social gatherings and minimising groups of people gathering in one space.
We will therefore, in the context of the declaration of a national disaster, also close the residences. Students have been instructed to vacate the residences within 72 hours from 16 March 2020.
The decision to suspend classes, and particularly to close residences, was taken following extensive discussion with experts in the field. The residences, where large numbers of students live in close proximity, pose a particular risk in terms of spreading the infection. In addition, it presents a risk of a mass outbreak that will add enormous further strain on health systems that will be stretched to capacity in the upcoming months. By all accounts, the prevention of the spread of the virus is key to fighting the pandemic and avoiding disaster. In our view, keeping the residences open is not responsible and adds significantly to the risk. Furthermore, we are aligning with the president’s decree that gatherings larger than 100 people must be avoided.
Please assist your child or dependant with vacating their residence and making their way home as soon as possible. We are working with student leadership and residence wardens to make the process as smooth as possible.
When classes resume, teaching and learning will be mostly online
Term 2 was set to commence on Monday, 30 March 2020, but we cannot confirm this date until we have had an opportunity to assess the prevailing and quickly changing circumstances. So we ask that students and staff monitor their emails and the UCT website for updates.
When teaching and learning commences in Term 2, we will allow students and staff to practise social distancing by relying largely on online learning. We will communicate our broader plan by the end of this week, or as soon as possible thereafter. We have advised postgraduates to continue working with their supervisors and to work off campus where possible. Any students with questions relating to their specific situations should contact their respective departments.
Please urge your child or dependant to remain calm, to stay in contact with their department, and to follow the instructions of their supervisor/s and head of department in terms of their study commitments.
We are limiting staff exposure to potential infection
We are also examining ways that will allow UCT staff to limit their potential exposure to the virus. Essential services will continue at UCT, but all non-essential gatherings will be minimised, cancelled or postponed.
We are encouraging members of the UCT community to practise compassion and kindness towards one another, and discouraging the stigmatising of individuals that have been affected. In addition, we are asking everyone to please not spread rumours or unconfirmed information.
The single confirmed case of COVID-19 at UCT is being managed
UCT now has a confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus. The staff member who tested positive for the disease is in isolation at home. The Western Cape Department of Health has begun to contact all those who were in close contact with our colleague as per the protocol prescribed by the provincial and national health agencies. Members of the university community who are well and who have been in close contact with the staff member have been instructed to remain in quarantine for 14 days while being monitored for symptoms.
Currently, the recommended action for a single case in a school or university is to remain open. Closure is only recommended if there are several cases. At UCT we have, however, for a variety of reasons, decided to bring our Term 1 vacation forward and suspend contact classes immediately. We understand that these decisions have significant impact and affect people in many ways.
In line with national and international information and events, we believe that it is important to be proactive in our decisions and to assist the government in trying to prevent the virus from spreading. We are working with the provincial and national agencies to establish appropriate quarantine facilities for people who are infected but remain asymptomatic. Any case where a person presents with COVID-19 symptoms will be dealt with via the provincial and national guidelines and protocols.
Please note that we use the following terms as prescribed by national health authorities: “quarantine” is a term used to describe people who are asymptomatic and who are restricting their movement because they have been in close contact with an infected person; “isolation” refers to people who have symptoms and may be required to be hospitalised, depending on the severity of their illness. Most patients with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and the disease can be managed by staying at home.
Large events and mass gatherings suspended
The executive have postponed the chancellor’s installation, which was to be held on Monday, 16 March 2020. We also suspended the March graduation ceremonies, which were scheduled to start on Thursday, 19 March. The Registrar’s Office will send details to graduands about how they can receive their graduation certificates.
We have agreed to cancel or postpone any UCT-related conferences and events until the end of June 2020. We will review this decision if necessary. Consistent with these decisions, please note that the 2020 ABSA Cape Epic, the 2020 Two Oceans Marathon and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2020 have all been postponed.
In line with a number of other organisations, we have made the decision to suspend the approval of any university-related international travel until the end of June 2020.
We encourage hygiene precautions
We urge all UCT staff and students, and you as their loved ones, to continue to follow the hygiene precautions that have been provided in previous communications:
Important sources for updates and information
Please regularly check the UCT Coronavirus Disease 2019 web page, which is being updated on a daily basis.
Please also note these important telephone numbers:
President Ramaphosa addressed the country on Sunday evening, and I encourage you to watch the media conference.
The National Department of Health has announced a WhatsApp service for queries related to COVID-19. Simply add 060 012 3456 as a WhatsApp contact and type “Hi” in the message block for access to relevant information.
There are many unknowns as we go forward, but we will continue to communicate as we make decisions. Meanwhile, please encourage your child or dependant to follow good hygiene and to remain focused on learning at home where possible.
We recognise that this is a difficult and disturbing time, but your support can make a big difference to your child or dependant’s well-being.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Updates will be posted on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 feature page on the UCT News website.
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