UCT remains vigilant as the third wave approaches

03 June 2021 | Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

The South African COVID-19 Modelling Consortium and the Department of Health have confirmed that the third wave of COVID-19 case incidence has begun in the Free State and that we are rapidly approaching the third wave threshold nationally, especially with the onset of winter weather. Cases have risen again in the Western Cape and this province is expected to be in the third wave early this month. On Sunday, 30 May, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South Africans on the progress in the national effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and placed the country on adjusted Alert Level 2 with effect from 31 May.

The Department of Health has reported new COVID-19 cases among students at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University in particular. Rondebosch and Mowbray, where many UCT students live, have been identified together as a cluster hotspot.

It is important to understand that mutations of the virus make it difficult to control

People who have had COVID-19 and recovered generally have immunity for up to six months, but after that time they become vulnerable to reinfection. And while many people remain vigilant against the pandemic, others are beginning to relax and are no longer following the protocols that reduce the chances of infection.

Updated information on testing for COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibodies, informing contacts, Isolation for patients with COVID-19 and quarantine for COVID-19 contacts is available on the webpage “UCT’s response to COVID-19” in the frequently asked questions.  

The National Department of Health vaccination programme has started – but we must remain vigilant

UCT is co-operating very closely with the provincial and the national departments of health in supplying the relevant data for staff. Currently, the university is not participating directly in any vaccination programme, nor do we have any authority over who will receive a vaccination, or when.

Even receiving a vaccination is not a guarantee against getting infected. A COVID-19 vaccination can increase immunity and reduce the chances of getting a bad case of the virus. But people who have been vaccinated can still become infected with no symptoms or minimal symptoms, and spread the virus on to others.

Individual personal behaviour is still one of the most important factors in preventing the spread of the virus

The onset of the third wave does not mean we are helpless against the pandemic. As a community that cares for each other and our families and friends, we need to each take individual responsibility to help prevent a significant rise in the third wave. My appeal to you is that we all continue to take the necessary precautions:

  • avoid large gatherings, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and crowds as far as possible
  • wear your mask at all times when outside your home or residence room
  • keep a distance of 1.5 m from other people, and
  • sanitise or wash your hands regularly to help prevent the risk of infection.

All students who are not staying in residence and do not need to be on campus for academic reasons are strongly encouraged not to come to campus. This will help us to maintain low-density spaces. You are, however, welcome to use the study spaces on campus, which meet the health and safety protocols under COVID-19 conditions. Staff members are also encouraged to continue working from home where possible.

Study spaces and marshals will focus on COVID-19 safety

Students and staff members who are walking anywhere on campus or using common spaces are required to wear face masks, keep a distance of 1.5 m away from each other and sanitise their hands regularly. This is a health and safety necessity to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus – especially as the winter flu season approaches. The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or just breathe. Campus Protection Services (CPS) staff are monitoring campus spaces but the final responsibility for beating the pandemic relies on each individual taking the responsibility to help keep the campus community safe.

Dedicated study spaces on campus are monitored by trained student COVID-19 marshals. When you are not in one of these spaces or in another campus facility, please help keep UCT safe by continuing to wear your mask and keeping a 1.5 m distance from other people, even when outdoors.

Teaching and learning will continue to seek ways to maintain social distancing

Teaching and learning at undergraduate level will proceed as planned in those faculties that require students to be on campus for laboratory or tutorial work. Faculties that have decided to have invigilated examinations on campus will be able to proceed as planned unless Level 3 Lockdown is declared. However, alternative plans have been made to afford these faculties the opportunity to still have invigilated examinations under Level 3 Lockdown. This will be communicated to the faculties early next week. For those faculties teaching fully online, no changes are envisaged.

Should a harder lockdown be declared, access to campus and study venues will have to be controlled more strictly in order to keep a low-density campus. Students in faculties that require them to be on campus will be issued centrally with permits to be on campus. This process will be communicated at the time. The current booking system will exercise greater control over the number of students allowed into study venues.

Staff and students must complete the online COVID-19 induction programme and have letters of authority to be on campus

The online COVID-19 induction programme is mandatory for all staff members and students, even those who may have completed the induction last year. (It must be completed every year and a record is being kept of who has completed the programme online.) It is one of the ways UCT ensures that each of us knows how to prevent the spread of the virus while on campus. Colleagues who do not have online access or smartphones will need to contact their line managers to make an alternative arrangement.

Colleagues who are returning to campus for any reason still need to receive a letter of authority to do so. CPS colleagues may not ask to see it, however this document provides a way for us to monitor potential traffic on campus and in offices.

Remember that mental health support is available at UCT

We know that the stresses of COVID-19 affect not only physical health for those who contract the virus, but also the mental health of all of us who feel the strain of lockdown and seeing loved ones suffer or even pass away as a result of the pandemic.

UCT offers many forms of support to students and staff members who are feeling these effects.

For students:

Student Wellness Services (SWS) is a comprehensive primary health care facility that provides medical, counselling and social work services.

  • Download the updated UCT COVID-19 Student Support Plan.
  • SWS 24 hour telephonic counselling is available toll free even during weekends and after hours:
    • UCT Care line 0800 24 25 26 or text 31393
    • Higher Health Counselling 0800 36 36 36
    • ER24 UCT collaboration 010 205 3010
  • Make a medical appointment booking online
  • Book a counselling / social work appointment online
  • Contact Campus Protection Services (CPS) – 021 650 2222/3 – (24-hour hotline) for mental health emergencies or if an ambulance is needed
  • Contact if distressed:
    • SADAG UCT Student Careline: 0800 24 25 26 free from a Telkom line or
    • SMS 31393 for a call-me-back.
  • If you have been sexually assaulted: Contact CPS) – 021 650 2222/3 – (24-hour hotline) or the Office for Inclusivity & Change  021 650 3530 or 072 393 7824
  • To discuss a COVID-19 related query, telephone
    • SWS on Triage line 021 650 5620 or
    • COVID hotline 021 650 1271

For staff members:

UCT Human Resources (HR) offers many forms of support.

HR support includes the coordination of services provided by the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS) and South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

ICAS support

  • Call ICAS toll-free for counselling over the phone: 080 111 3945
  • Send a please-call-me to: *134*905#
  • Email uct@icas.co.za
  • Connect to ICAS On-the-Go (the code for UCT staff is UNI003) to chat live with an ICAS counsellor 24/7/365 to address some of your health and wellness needs

SADAG support

  • Call 0800 171 171 (toll-free from a Telkom line 24 hours a day)
  • Send an SMS to 31393 to request a call back
  • Email office@anxiety.org.za for a counsellor to call you back
  • Visit the SADAG website for very useful information about how to cope with the daily stresses of working during the national lockdown
  • Visit the SADAG Facebook page to access the Daily Expert Q&A from 13h00 to 14h00
  • Access SADAG podcasts for practical tips to cope in a time of anxiety

Please continue to make it part of your daily routine to reach out to your colleagues, your friends and your family. Now more than ever, we need to work at building a sense of connection and a feeling of community.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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