Dear colleagues and students
Concern is growing on campus – and all over the world – over the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Although there have been no reported cases in South Africa, the country remains on high alert and the relevant authorities have given assurances on their capability to contain the disease. I wrote to you on this matter a few weeks ago (read the VC Desk) and I am now giving a further update.
COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. This update is based on information that was current as of 4 March 2020. This will be updated as and when new information becomes available.
COVID-19 has now been identified in patients in over 81 countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA) has categorised an individual’s risk of infection according to their status. Students and staff are advised to avoid or postpone travel to high risk countries where possible, including, for example, China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. In the case of countries that are currently considered low risk destinations where there are no reported cases, travellers are advised to practise standard hygiene measures that are similar to preventing the common cold and flu.
Please also be aware that the medical risks of COVID-19 are more severe in older people. People who are over 60 and/or have chronic medical conditions are advised to not travel to high risk areas unless it is absolutely essential, and to still be cautious when travelling to low risk areas.
The possibility of infection in high risk countries is likely when moving through airports and while using public transport. When travelling by aeroplane or train, wipe surfaces such as tray tables and arm rests. These are known to carry all sorts of germs, so it is worthwhile to use a “wet wipe” to clean them. The likelihood of contracting the disease by walking past an infected person who is coughing is extremely low.
Staff and students who have to travel are advised to consider their academic calendars, which could be affected should quarantine be required upon return from a high risk country, or should there be a need for them to remain in that high risk country if “lock-in” containment measures are implemented. An example of this scenario is the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where guests were contained on the ship when they were found to have been infected.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus can live for a number of days on surfaces. Most of the risk comes from touching infected surfaces and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. The SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads from the upper airways of an infected person when they cough or sneeze – these droplets can fall onto surfaces within about a metre. A number of standard hygiene practices reduce risk while travelling:
If you have a pre-existing medical condition or you are on medication such as steroids or other immunosuppressants, it is important that you consult with your medical practitioner or, for UCT students, the Student Wellness Service’s (SWS) health practitioners.
Should you travel, the risk of infecting people on your return depends on the destinations visited. Containment of potential infection is important. Active surveillance measures have been put in place by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in collaboration with the Department of Health to identify any possible imported case.
A pragmatic approach for travellers returning to South Africa from an area with community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 who have no symptoms (asymptomatic) is to 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.
For more information, students can contact SWS on 021 650 5620 (office hours) or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Please note the Frequently Asked Questions document recently distributed by Discovery Health for your information.
Read previous communications:
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Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March. This was followed by the implementation of a national lockdown, which has been in effect since midnight on 26 March and has recently been extended to 30 April. The intention of this drastic measure is to “flatten the curve” and contain the spread of the coronavirus to enable healthcare workers to more effectively treat those affected.
UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information.
Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19
The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.
To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.
The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced the global consequences of fragmented, inadequate and inequitable healthcare systems and the damage caused by hesitant and poorly communicated responses.24 Jun 2020 - >10 min read Opinion
Our scientists must not practise in isolation, but be encouraged to be creative and increase our knowledge of the needs of developing economies, write Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, vice-chancellor of UCT, and Professor Thokozani Majozi from the University of the Witwatersrand.09 Jun 2020 - 6 min read Republished
South Africa has been recognised globally for its success in flattening the curve, which came as a result of President Ramaphosa responding quickly to the crisis, writes Prof Alan Hirsch.28 Apr 2020 - 6 min read Republished
In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”
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.