Holiday travel precautions against COVID-19

07 December 2020 | Dr Reno Morar, COO

Dear colleagues and students,

I hope you are all well and looking forward to a much-deserved holiday season. We all need a break after this historic year. It is tempting to lay aside the precautions we have been following since lockdown began in March. I am writing to encourage you to keep following these precautions as we enter the holiday season, so that we can all come back together again in 2021 in the best possible health, ready to tackle the challenges of the new academic year.

The sad reality is that COVID-19 does not take a holiday. As at 1 December 2020, nine more staff members of the University of Cape Town (UCT) tested positive for the virus – the highest weekly tally since the reporting period ending on 4 August 2020. This recent increase in the rate of infection is worrying. We all need to keep this in mind as we make our arrangements for the holiday season.

Health and government officials are noting higher rates of infection in South Africa, particularly in the Eastern and Western Cape. The City of Cape Town Metro, including the area around UCT, is a ‘hot spot’ for infection. So if you plan to stay in Cape Town for the festive season, please be very careful. Avoid crowded places, whether they are in public venues such as clubs or shopping malls, or in private homes.

For this festive season, we urge you to take the necessary precautions and avoid large gatherings, enclosed spaces and crowds.

As more people move across country over the festive season, the chances are that the virus will also travel and lead to even more cases of infection. Another risk is that a rise in infections could lead to travel bans between provinces.

If you plan to travel, you need to be aware that it may become more difficult to return to UCT when you need to do so. Travel bans may close roads as well as air travel and minibus taxi travel. (Minibus taxis also pose risks in themselves, as they tend to be crowded and they might not keep their windows open throughout a journey.)

If you are planning to travel, health officials advise that you follow these guidelines:

  1. Always wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose when you are in a public space, including minibus taxis, buses, trains or airplanes.
  2. Take adequate hand sanitiser in the vehicle and use it regularly whenever going into a public space.
  3. When traveling, try keeping one or more windows slightly ajar to allow for good ventilation in the vehicle.
  4. Avoid crowded public spaces or beaches. If you must visit these places, keep your mask on at all times, sanitise your hands regularly, maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5m from others and ensure that your loved ones do the same.
  5. Avoid using public toilets if possible. Use hand sanitiser both before and after using a public toilet.
  6. Avoid going to restaurants that serve buffet meals.
  7. Do not use public drinking fountains. Only drink water or other beverages from your own container and do not share with others.

Because of the risks of travel and the safety precautions that are needed, UCT staff and students may be tempted not to take time off in the holiday season. However, we all need a physical and mental break, to restore our personal resources for the year ahead. We may not be aware of how much this year has drained us.

So I encourage you all to plan a good break, even if it is at home. Creating a holiday atmosphere with your loved ones can be a welcome change from the work routine and can help you all to discover new things about each other, and new ways to enjoy each other’s company. A good source of ideas for activities you can do together (even if you are sharing with loved ones in the virtual space) is the list on the Mental Health 30-Day Challenge provided by Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS) South Africa.

As we approach the close of 2020, please take a moment to reflect not only on the challenges we are all facing, but also on the victories and blessings you experienced this year, no matter how small they may seem. By taking a break and following the public health precautions, you will give yourself an opportunity to consolidate your mental and physical health for the coming year.

Enjoy your holiday. Take care. Be safe. Be strong.

Sincerely

Dr Reno Morar
Chief Operating Officer
Chair of the COVID-19 Co-ordinating Committee


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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.

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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.

 

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