Frequently Asked Questions

22 May 2020

New information relating to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in South Africa is being made available on an almost hourly basis via various news and social media channels. The University of Cape Town (UCT) is also providing its communities with the latest information, which is being loaded daily onto the university’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 webpage. Some of the responses below are dated to indicate when last the information was updated.

For more information specific to research, please refer to the COVID-19 FAQs for researchers and for postgraduates.

COVID-19 | UCT’s response to COVID-19 | Graduation | Admissions for 2021 | International students | Finances | UCT support to students and postgrads during lockdown | UCT support to staff mental health and wellness during lockdown | UCT support to researchers during lockdown | Supporting UCT during the time of COVID-19 | A phased return to campus




National Department of Health WhatsApp service 060 012 3456 (WhatsApp “Hi” for access to relevant information)

The South African coronavirus website

National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) hotline 0800 029 999

Student Wellness Service

  • 021 650 5620 (office hours)
  • 021 650 1271 (after hours)
  • 021 650 5685 (staff only)

Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS)

  • The all-new ICAS On-the-Go app lets you chat live with an ICAS counsellor, giving you and your family access to 24/7/365 health and wellness info.
  • Please call me: *134*905#
  • Email
  • Telephonic counselling 080 111 3945

UCT Coronavirus Disease 2019 web page:

Social distancing – which has now been increased to staying at home, quarantine and self-isolation – will help to “flatten the curve” of infections by reducing the spread of the coronavirus. This in turn will limit pressure on the country’s healthcare facilities, allowing healthcare workers to more effectively treat those affected. UCT has halted academic and research activities on campus and closed the residences to minimise the risk of infection for both students and staff members.

(Updated 1 April) The South African government has been swift and decisive in their response to the coronavirus pandemic. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a state of national disaster during his address on Sunday, 15 March, and a countrywide lockdown (commencing at midnight, Thursday, 26 March, and lasting until 16 April 2020) during his address on 23 March.

Highlights from the report by the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, as of 31 March 2020:

  • Approximately 10 000 community healthcare workers will be deployed across the country to conduct door-to-door screening in our most vulnerable communities. The field workers will not conduct any tests but will refer any persons suspected of having COVID-19 to the nearest medical facility. The deployment will be a phased, targeted approach. Field workers will have adequate personal protective equipment.
  • Looking at the trend we are seeing of the day-to-day new infections, we are cautiously optimistic that we may not see the numbers rising as high as we had initially projected. We should, however, bear in mind that we are approaching winter, which could change the dynamics entirely. But it is clear that South Africa can make a real impact and flatten the curve if we continue to observe the regulations that have been set out by government.
  • Therefore, I would like to encourage South Africans to continue to stay at home, observe good hygienic practice and work together with government – this way we have a real chance of containing the spread of COVID-19.

Read more updates on South Africa’s response to COVID-19 on the South African coronavirus website.

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UCT’s response to COVID-19

(Updated 30 March) All academic activities, including research, on campus have been halted. All students have been required to vacate the residences and return home, with help from the university. We all carry a huge responsibility to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on our country. By practising social distancing, staying home, and practising good hygiene, we can all contribute to containing the spread of the virus.

Updates are available on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 webpage.

(Updated 30 March) Preliminary work on the development of vaccines has started with the University of Cape Town, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and Biovac. Progress is expected in over 18 months. This according to an SA News report.

(Updated 2 April) UCT’s Properties and & Services department has a protocol for disinfecting facilities where COVID-19 cases have been identified, and this is done on an ongoing basis. All buildings frequented by UCT students and staff that have tested positive for COVID-19 have been identified, closed immediately and disinfected.

(Updated 10 May) UCT has had one new positive COVID-19 case reported since the last update was issued on 30 April. The staff member is attached to a department that has been working remotely for at least six weeks. The relevant line managers are providing support.

The latest case means UCT has now had eight COVID-19 cases. Six of the eight individuals who previously tested positive have fully recovered (three students and three staff members).

In each instance, the process of contact tracing got underway immediately, and all persons identified were instructed to remain in quarantine for 14 days.

(Updated 27 April) UCT has set up the COVID-19 Emergency Fund to assist in the fight against the virus and its impact on the UCT community. Members of the UCT community, including alumni, staff and students, who are able to, are urged to support the fight against the pandemic by making contributions to the fund. Donations towards the COVID-19 fund can be made online or deposited directly into the following account:

Bank: Standard Bank | Account Name: UCT Donations | Acc number: 071 522 387 Branch Code: 025009 | Acc Type: Business Current Account | Swift Address: SBZAZAJJ

Please use COVID-19 and the full name of donor as the reference. Proof of payment should be emailed to so that an S18A tax certificate can be issued for the donation.

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(Updated 30 March) Graduation ceremonies and all other events at UCT involving a large number of people have been suspended until further notice.

A letter confirming the suspension of March graduation is available for reference.

(Updated 30 March) We understand the disappointment that our students and their families feel about the suspension of the March 2020 graduation ceremonies. The decision to suspend the ceremonies was not taken lightly. Graduates can email the UCT Student Records Office for information about obtaining certificates.

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Admissions for 2021

(Updated 30 March) Please check the UCT website for information on admissions applications for the 2021 academic year.

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International students

(Updated 1 April) While UCT understands the difficulties faced by UCT students who are living in neighbouring countries in the Southern African Development Community, we regret that UCT is unable to provide laptops to foreign students in those countries. The logistics are simply not available.

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(Updated 30 March) UCT is working hard to ensure immediate payment of allowances to all students who are on financial aid. If you have not received your allowance, please contact the Student Financial Aid Office.

(Updated 2 April) UCT’s Postgraduate Funding Office is working hard – albeit remotely – to ensure that postgraduate bursaries and scholarships continue to be paid and applications for new and renewed funding are processed throughout the lockdown.

(Updated 30 March) Although lectures cannot be hosted in face-to-face classes on campus, UCT has proposed the continuation of teaching and learning online. If the proposal is accepted, lectures will continue online.

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UCT support to undergrad and postgrad students during lockdown

(Updated 3 May) The second term started on Monday, 20 April, with an orientation until 25 April. Formal teaching started on Tuesday, 28 April. We have planned to teach remotely for the second and third terms. The academic year is likely to extend well into December and to continue into January and February 2021. UCT’s current planning includes the possibility of pushing the start of the next academic year to March 2021 to allow for the successful conclusion of the 2020 academic year. This plan is subject to change, however, and a return to campus may happen earlier or later, depending on the government’s response to COVID-19. Our primary focus is to ensure that every student can complete the academic year successfully.

(Updated 11 May) UCT has taken various wide-ranging steps to enable students across South Africa to study online. UCT is loaning and delivering laptop computers to eligible students on the basis of responses to the April 2020 student survey. Laptop deliveries started on 24 April, but only a limited number can be delivered per day. Students on all networks have now received data. In addition, the four main cellphone network providers have zero-rated access to specified UCT sites. A dedicated webpage has been created on the ICTS website that will be updated regularly when additional sites are zero-rated.

Students who have not received data bundles or laptops are asked to log a call with for assistance, but only after the dates specified above.

(Updated 3 May)

  • In most courses there will be continual assessment through regular quizzes, tests and assignments.
  • First semester courses will not be examined through invigilated examinations, apart from a few exceptions in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment.
  • Annual courses (W and H courses) will have invigilated examinations at the end of the year.
  • All first semester courses, except exit level (final year) courses and courses in the Faculty of Law, will have PASS/FAIL as the final grade. This will not be counted as part of the grade point average.
  • We have moved the deadline to drop courses from 8 May to 29 May. At the moment, this only means that the courses you drop will not be listed in your transcript as incomplete. We are studying the financial implications of dropping courses for students and the university.

Look out for further updates on the UCT website and on Vula.

(Updated 11 May) UCT has set up a system to distribute printed learning materials and USB drives with lecture recordings for students who cannot access the internet in any form. The delivery of distance learning materials began on 11 May. We have assembled a working group and are using the COVID-19 UCT Emergency Fund to support this project. All faculties are monitoring their students and making contact with those who, for whatever reason, cannot cope with online learning.

(Updated 1 April) Due to both cost and limited availability, UCT cannot distribute laptop computers to all the students who do not have devices (including those who had them but lost them through theft or accident). For this reason, it was necessary to develop criteria and special conditions for allocating the limited number of laptop computers that are available. The overarching criterion is financial need.

The laptops to be distributed will be allocated only to students in these categories:

  • undergraduate South African students who are on financial aid or are eligible for financial aid and are residing in South Africa
  • South African postgraduates who are on financial aid or are eligible for financial aid and are residing in South Africa
  • GAP funded students, either undergraduate or postgraduate, who are residing in South Africa
  • tutors in undergraduate courses who are also postgraduates
  • sponsored South African students who have not been supplied with computers through their funders.

The computers will be loan laptops – not a donation – and they must be returned to UCT at the end of the 2020 academic programme. If the laptop is returned at the end of the 2020 academic programme, there will be no cost to the student. The laptops will be issued to students at a cost of R4 150, which will serve as a deposit, to be charged to the student’s fee account. This charge will be reversed once the laptop is returned after the completion of the 2020 academic programme.

To make it possible to allocate these laptops, UCT needs to cross-check information from Financial Aid, the Postgraduate Office and the faculties with the responses received from you in the Student Access Survey.

(Updated 20 April) UCT will provide laptop computers on loan to students who meet the financial and logistical criteria. We are awaiting clearance from government for approval of the courier service. We will arrange door-to-door delivery of laptops to eligible students living within South Africa.

(Updated 3 May) UCT is providing prepaid data to all students who have valid South African cellphone numbers recorded on PeopleSoft. If you need a data bundle and have not updated PeopleSoft with your South African mobile number, please do so now.

The deals to provide data bundles for one month have been signed between UCT and the four major South African cellular network providers: Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom. These deals will be renewed on a monthly basis. The renewal date of each bundle will depend on the initial provision date. All bundles consist of 20GB “night-time” data along with “anytime” data totalling either 10GB (for Cell C, MTN and Vodacom users) or 20GB (for Telkom users).

(Updated 27 April) Please contact your faculty advisor or department via Vula if you have any questions about online learning, receiving printed learning materials and USB drives, or other study needs during this time. For technical questions you can also contact the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) Helpdesk by emailing or phoning 021 650 4500 during office hours.

(Updated 30 March) You will not have to sit in front of your computer at the time of your lectures. You will be able to access and download your lectures, listen to or watch them as often as you need to, and then do your assignments in your own time.

(Updated 1 April) Provision will be made for students to catch up with their studies through blended learning (which combines online lectures and face-to-face tutorials) once the university is able to reopen. The academic calendar will be adjusted so that students are not prejudiced in terms of the length of their studies and their funding.

(Updated 30 March) Please contact the department and faculty where you are studying for advice on personal and specific questions.

(Updated 20 April) There will be no academic exclusions during 2020. UCT recognises the anxiety caused by the impact that the academic year timeline adjustments will have on National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding, and we are engaging with NSFAS about this.

(Updated 20 April) UCT currently estimates that remote teaching will continue into the second and third terms. The health and safety of students and staff members is UCT’s top priority. Any decisions regarding how the UCT campuses will reopen will be wholly aligned with national government directives and will be announced by the vice-chancellor.

(Updated 21 April) The university conducted a survey to determine students’ available resources for remote learning. We are grateful for responses from most of our students. Of the 90.4% students who had completed the survey by 15 April, 89.5% had access to a laptop/desktop computer, while 1.3% had no device. UCT has arranged for door-to-door delivery of laptops to eligible students. A total of 91.4% of UCT students have internet access. The university is taking steps to try to support the 8.6% of students who don’t have internet access, in addition to other measures already put in place.

(Updated 20 April 2020) All faculties will communicate directly with students in relation to practical work such as laboratory work, fieldwork, studio sessions and specific courses. Special plans for courses such as dance, music, fine art and theatre will be made in the new academic calendar to accommodate the needs for contact teaching. The Faculty of Health Sciences will use the online option while it is working on the necessary adjustments to clinical training. This will be communicated directly to students.

(Updated 27 April) The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has issued an update on student allowances during the COVID-19 lockdown. NSFAS has activated a business continuity plan to facilitate uninterrupted funding to students, resolution of student applications queries, processing of appeals and general assistance to institutions with NSFAS administration.

(Updated 3 May) According to the recent UCT student survey, some students already have adequate internet access at home to study effectively. UCT urges students to take up the call to opt out of receiving a data bundle so that the university can focus resources on helping students in need. To opt out, please follow the link below, navigate to the Biographic tab and select “No” under the “Mobile data required” section.

(Updated 3 May) The four major South African cellular network providers (Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom) have agreed to zero-rate certain important UCT sites and systems for their respective users, which means that they will not consume data from their data bundles. The list of zero-rated sites is different for each service provider. ICTS provides the full list of zero-rated sites offered by each cellular network provider, as well as the structure of data bundles available to students.

See which UCT URLs are zero-rated by each mobile network

(Updated 3 May) UCT has been establishing whether students with disabilities have access to technology and software programmes to ensure “equitable access” to online learning. Hard-of-hearing students using South African Sign Language interpreters will use WhatsApp video for interactions and, if data allows, Zoom conferencing to access sign interpretation. Visually impaired students have access to the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) programme on their computers for ease of learning.

Students with mental health conditions are receiving ongoing support in the form of extra time applications and verified accommodation letters, and carers and psychologists continue to liaise with students who require mental health support during this time.

(Updated 3 May) The UCT Call Centre and Referral System (CARES) is a new support tool being developed by the Academic Advising Project at the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) to provide students with a central connection to UCT’s greater support network. If you are not sure about where to get help, or just need general information, you can direct your query to Student queries will either be responded to immediately or referred to the relevant contact for follow-up. We will soon be launching an SMS query line as well.

(Updated 18 May) Provision will be made for students to catch up with their studies through blended learning, which combines online lectures and face-to-face tutorials, once the university is able to reopen. The academic calendar will be adjusted so that students are not prejudiced in terms of the length of their studies and their funding.

To mitigate students’ anxieties, the university has acknowledged that most students will only be able to learn remotely for 30 hours per week and has adjusted the academic calendar to accommodate this. Most courses will use a continual assessment model.

(Updated 19 May) Students can access therapists for counselling via telephone or Skype sessions. Sessions can be booked online or via email at

Students who require support can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours). The UCT Student Care Line provides 24-hour telephonic counselling on 0800 24 25 26 or SMS 31393 for a callback.

To continue supporting survivors of sexual assault, UCT’s Office for Inclusivity & Change (OIC) is running a weekly online Survivor Support Group (SSG). The OIC’s specialist wellness counsellor and survivor support officer, Yumna Seadat, runs the SSGs, which take place every Tuesday from 17:30 to 19:30. These SSGs will continue online until all staff and students have returned to campus.

To join an online SSG, potential participants should contact Seadat via email to arrange an initial one-on-one meeting, when Seadat will discuss confidentiality, anonymity and how to gain access to the online SSG via Microsoft Teams.

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UCT support to staff mental health and wellness during lockdown

(Updated 1 April) One suggestion is to try to make it part of your daily routine to reach out to your colleagues, your friends and your family. A sense of connection and a feeling of community are essential to create the culture of hope and healing that we so desperately need at the moment. If you are feeling isolated from your UCT team, please let your line manager know. There are services available like WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom to help you connect with colleagues remotely.

(Updated 1 April) UCT Human Resources (HR) offers many forms of support, including the coordination of services provided by the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS) and South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) as described below. I urge you to read through the full list of counselling services available through UCT HR’s Health and Wellness web page.

Increased ICAS services

During this unprecedented time, we have asked ICAS to increase their capacity for managing the immediate needs of our staff members. While ICAS on-site counselling is suspended for now, the same counsellors are now available to conduct telephonic counselling. You can access these services by:

  • Calling toll-free for counselling over the phone: 080 111 39452
  • Sending a please-call-me to: *134*905#
  • Emailing

ICAS recently launched a new online app, ICAS On-the-Go, which allows you to chat live with an ICAS counsellor. The app gives you and your family access to a 24/7/365 Employee Wellness Programme and information to address some of your health and wellness needs.

Connect to ICAS On-the-Go. The code for UCT staff is UNI003.

SADAG services

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group, and its services are available to UCT staff members. SADAG offers free telephonic counselling for depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

SADAG offers excellent podcasts that provide practical tips to cope in a time of anxiety.

Should you require their counselling services, please contact SADAG by:

  • calling 0800 171 171 (toll-free from a Telkom line 24 hours a day)
  • sending an SMS to 31393 to request a call back
  • emailing for a counsellor to call you back
  • visiting the SADAG website for very useful information about how to cope with the daily stresses of working during the national lockdown
  • visiting the SADAG Facebook page to access the Daily Expert Q&A from 13:00 to 14:00

One suggestion from SADAG is to reduce the time that staff and their families spend watching or listening to media coverage. SADAG suggests only following reliable resources such as:

(Updated 27 April) The Office for Inclusivity and Change will host online survivor support groups for staff and students who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. The sessions will be held every Tuesday from 17:30 to 19:30 on the Microsoft Teams platform. The online support groups will be a semi-structured psychosocial educational group to assist survivors in coping with their trauma. For more information and to join the online sessions, please email the Survivor Support Case Officer and Counsellor at

(Updated 10 April)


Staff in pay classes 2 to 6 are covered by Kaelo , which is promoting health and wellness through the Kaelo Cares page. Although the onsite UCT clinic is closed during lockdown, Kaelo is providing services in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including free flu vaccinations for members with registered chronic conditions until 30 June 2020 (subject to availability and as per policy), and covering the cost of the pathology test (up to a maximum of R1 400) for confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. To access these services, Kaelo members can phone their Kaelo primary healthcare network doctors.

Discovery Health

Staff in pay classes 7 and above as well as academic staff who are Discovery Health members can access that medical aid provider’s services.

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UCT support to researchers during lockdown

(Updated 2 April) UCT remains as active as possible from a research and postgraduate point of view. However, in line with the national lockdown put in place by government at midnight on Thursday, 26 March, to stop the spread of COVID-19, the university has put on hold all research being done on campus – whether in the laboratory, in the studio or in the field. As an institution and as a country, we must keep the virus’s spread to a minimum by obeying the restrictions of the lockdown period – requiring us all to stay at home along with some three billion people globally – and the social distancing that will continue beyond it.

This unique situation raises a number of concerns and uncertainties for the research community; we are keenly aware of these and are working hard to address them.

For more information specific to research, please refer to the COVID-19 FAQs for researchers on the Research Support Hub.

(Updated 2 April) It is important that postgraduates continue with their research remotely wherever possible, working, for instance, on research reviews, data analysis, writing up

parts of their theses and working on papers. Supervisors are encouraged to work closely with their postgraduates by using the many remote tools we have available to provide them with good support.

We recognise that the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic may make it impossible for postgraduate researchers with time-limited funding to proceed with aspects of their projects for the moment. UCT is engaging with the National Research Foundation and other funding bodies around this issue – often at a sectoral level through Universities South Africa.

This is a difficulty faced by millions of students who are in the same situation, not only in South Africa but around the world, and UCT is working to find solutions for our students and researchers. We encourage you to continue with those aspects of your research that can be done remotely, if your circumstances allow, even where you need to change the preferred order of the work.

(Updated 2 April) UCT’s Postgraduate Funding Office is working hard – albeit remotely – to ensure that postgraduate bursaries and scholarships continue to be paid and applications for new and renewed funding are processed throughout the lockdown.

(Updated 2 April) Access to both laptops and data is a challenge for many of our postgraduates. There is a plan in place to distribute laptops to a limited group of students in need. The criteria for this and how it will take place is discussed in the DVC Desk of 1 April 2020 titled, “Important: Student access survey and conditions for receiving a loan laptop”. Please complete the Student Access Survey on your needs for working remotely, which will enable us to understand the overall status of your connectivity. The survey will help us prioritise and allocate laptops according to greatest need.

Work is in progress at a national level with telecommunication companies to get students and postgraduates access to South African-hosted websites, including all educational sites, for as long as they are unable to work on campus. This is still under discussion.

(Updated 2 April) Such an agreement is unlikely to provide our researchers with the facilities needed for data-intensive research, for which a different plan will have to be made. We encourage researchers to use UCT’s virtual private network (VPN) where possible to access and operate systems on campus, all of which are running. Data transfer can then be managed in the normal way using the underlying systems via the access granted by the VPN.

(Updated 3 April) National Research Foundation (NRF) interns are hosted by a UCT department and are mentored by a UCT staff member. Under normal conditions, the department and the mentor would ensure that the NRF intern has the necessary resources (such as workspace, a computer and access to online resources) to complete the required work. However, the conditions under lockdown are far from normal and it may not be possible for NRF interns to continue to work off-site. Every NRF intern needs to consult with their department and mentor about how lockdown affects them and their ability to meet the agreed deliverables.


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Supporting UCT during the time of COVID-19

(Updated 3 May) The COVID-19 UCT Emergency Fund was set up to assist in the fight against the virus and its impact on the UCT community. This fund has so far helped with needs such as providing transportation for students who needed to return home ahead of lockdown, disinfecting buildings as they were vacated, sourcing laptop computers and arranging their delivery to needy students, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to essential staff members who needed to remain on campus, and purchasing data bundles for students who are able to study online at home. When the lockdown is lifted and students and staff start returning to campus, the COVID-19 UCT Emergency Fund will help to provide for other needs, such as PPEs to ensure their safety. We are very grateful for the donations so far and encourage you to support UCT and our students in completing their academic studies.

(Updated 3 May) COVID-19 UCT Emergency Fund donations can be made to the following account:

Bank name: Standard Bank of South Africa Limited
Account name: UCT Donations Account
Account number: 071522387
Type of account: Current
Branch name: Rondebosch
Branch code: 025009
Branch address: Belmont Road, Rondebosch, 7700, Cape Town, South Africa
Swift address: SBZAZAJJ

NB: Please use COVID-19, Initials and Surname as your reference when making your donation. Please email proof of payment to


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A phased return to campus

(Updated 18 May) Three groups of students – final-year medical students, academically vulnerable students and those students needing to access campus labs and studios to complete their 2020 studies – will be the first to return to campus. The return of all other students to campus will follow as circumstances allow. The health and safety of students and staff members remains UCT’s top priority. The four-phase return of students to campus will be in line with the government’s COVID-19 guidelines, taking into account current state regulations governing health and safety, as well as risk management, and equity and fairness.

A task team is developing criteria for vulnerable students, such as an inability to learn remotely due to issues such as connectivity and socio-economic circumstances. Once the national regulatory framework permits UCT to do so, the intention is to return these students to residence – not for face-to-face learning, but to allow them to continue remote learning in residence, with tutorial support and easier access to online resources.

(Updated 19 May) The Department of Higher Education and Training has issued regulations that allow final-year medical students to travel back to UCT by 31 May 2020 so that they can access clinical platforms and complete their academic year.

UCT’s Department of Student Affairs has identified residences that will be set aside for students who return early to complete the clinical year for the MBChB degree. A screening protocol has been put in place. Personal protective equipment has been procured and an appropriate staffing plan is in place.

All returning students must enter a 14-day self-quarantine period on arrival at their rooms in residence or their private accommodation. They will also be required to follow protocols of good public health practice.


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