Dear students and colleagues
This campus announcement aims to inform the University of Cape Town (UCT) community about developments around the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
1. UCT commences Term 1 vacation immediately
As a precautionary, proactive measure to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 and also in line with the recent address by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the UCT executive took a decision to break earlier than scheduled for the term 1 vacation and to suspend classes as from, and including Monday, 16 March 2020. Students were also required to vacate residences within 72 hours from 16 March. Term 1 vacation was to have started on Saturday, 21 March.
2. Support for students vacating residences
Arrangements have been put in place to assist students vacating residences. These include immediate payment of allowances for all students on financial aid, liaising with the Department of Home Affairs in cases involving international students, securing safe storage for students’ belongings and working with external agencies on travel plans for students. UCT chartered six buses to transport students to metros in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday, 19 March. Students travelling beyond the metros were assisted to ensure that they reach their homes safely and conveniently.
The decision to close residences was taken following extensive discussions with experts in the field. The residences, where large numbers of students live in close proximity, pose a high risk in terms of spreading the infection. In addition, it presents a risk of a mass outbreak and this could add enormous further strain on a health system that will be stretched to capacity in the next weeks. Keeping residences open would have added significantly to the risk of the virus spreading rapidly and contributing to the swell in the rate of infections when our actions must rather serve to flatten the curve.
3. UCT’s equitable approach to responding to COVID-19
The university’s approach to dealing with COVID-19 is to play our part in efforts to slow the increase in the rate of new infections. This means practising social distancing and avoiding unnecessary close physical contact. This guiding principle underpins all decisions of the UCT executive.
Staff and students are encouraged to support one another by showing kindness and patience, and to continue with good hygiene practices. This cooperation will help to ensure UCT remains open, with work continuing remotely where possible.
4. Update on research activities
Research support offices, including Research Contracts & Innovation and the Research Office, remain operational, but as far as possible without physical contact. Staff can be reached through email and other digital technologies.
All scheduled workshops and seminars are being cancelled, postponed or rearranged to take place online. Staff are working towards offering many of the resources normally provided in face-to-face seminars through online platforms, such as Vula.
Where possible, postgraduate students are encouraged to continue their work off campus. Supervisors are encouraged to make use of digital technologies to stay in contact and provide necessary supervision support.
For updates please read the Research Announcement.
5. Second confirmed COVID-19 case
A second staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member is in isolation for the next two weeks under supervision from the national Department of Health. Contact tracing has already begun to identify people who were in close contact with the staff member and to date they are all asymptomatic.
6. Teaching and learning responding to COVID-19
During the next semester, the university plans to move undergraduate courses online in all faculties – except in Health Sciences, for which a specific plan is being developed. In order to do this, a Teaching Online Task Team has been formed. It is made up of the faculty deans, colleagues in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, and other units in the Centre for Higher Education Development, Student Wellness, the Disability Service, the Libraries and the Information and Communication Technology Services Department.
7. UCT Human Resources and COVID-19
The Coronavirus outbreak means that UCT is redefining the workplace to include working from home where appropriate. Staff will, with due urgency, be duly authorised to do so by their line managers, and are legally protected in terms of the relevant legislation, while remaining subject to UCT’s staffing policies and protocols. This is in line with the principles of social and physical distancing, and is being implemented in order to ensure the safety of staff.
Ensuring the success of this approach will require alternative ways of working: prioritising electronic communication and other online functionality, reducing meetings and walk-ins, conducting consultations via email/circular wherever possible, and scheduling meetings only as an exception.
8. Jammie Shuttle Service updated vacation timetable
Due to COVID-19 there has been a further reduction of the Jammie Shuttle service in order to minimise close contact. The timetable is effective immediately and only covers three routes - Claremont, Hiddingh and a loop service covering Mowbray and Observatory (as part of the Health Sciences route). The service will not be operating at residences during the vacation period. Staff transport will be provided from Tugwell to residences. Should staff require transport in the afternoon back to Tugwell, they need to notify the driver and provide the times.
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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 is currently scheduled until 16 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.
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.