The national lockdown, which was implemented to help limit the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), is unquestionably a necessary measure and may save many lives.
As essential as it is to “flatten the curve” in South Africa, social distancing and working from home introduce complexities, stresses and anxieties that will affect University of Cape Town (UCT) staff in many ways.
While university operations are continuing virtually and online wherever possible, the UCT executive wants to ensure that all staff remain healthy, both physically and mentally. The UCT Human Resources department has been working to further increase the availability of, and access to, counselling services to support the mental health of our staff through this period of lockdown and remote working.
Supporting staff through line management
UCT is a close community, but one that is currently working and living under very stressful conditions as a result of COVID-19. As a community, we need to watch out for one another, and I particularly want to ask line managers and supervisors to be alert to the unique needs of their staff during this time. I want to remind you that some of our colleagues are working from home in circumstances that are very different from the workplace.
The importance of regular personal engagement with colleagues who are working remotely cannot be over-emphasised. Although some people think that isolation and loneliness are minor issues, they can become major issues if they are not dealt with effectively. I want to encourage all line managers to engage with your staff members by making use of the available online tools, such as Whatsapp or Skype, or calling on the phone on a regular basis, to ensure not only business continuity but also personal contact and monitoring of staff wellbeing.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Medical aid support
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.
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.
Please 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.
I want to thank you all for pulling together during this uncertain time in our country. Your willingness to work through the complexities we have been presented with will stand this university in good stead in the long term.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
Updates will be posted on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 feature page on the UCT News website.
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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 and implement a national lockdown from 26 March. The intention of these drastic measures is to “flatten the curve” and contain the spread of the coronavirus to enable healthcare workers to more effectively treat those affected. Although South Africa has recently reached a peak of COVID-19 infections, the country is expecting a surge in positive cases in August.
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.
As the COVID-19 crisis drags on and evolves, civil society groups are responding to growing and diversifying needs – just when access to resources is becoming more insecure, writes UCT’s Prof Ralph Hamann.03 Jul 2020 - 6 min read Republished
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.