Commemorating the COVID-19 anniversary

26 March 2021 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

On 5 March 2020, the country anxiously observed as Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced that South Africa’s first positive COVID-19 case had been confirmed. The University of Cape Town (UCT) closed on 16 March, with term vacation beginning a week earlier to allow students to return home as the country went into national lockdown a year ago at midnight on 26 March 2020.

Undoubtedly the past year has been characterised by immeasurable loss, uncertainty, learning and unlearning, and resilience.

On Thursday, 25 March, the UCT executive held a special COVID-19 commemoration where we observed a moment of silence. The executive and I lit candles to remember the members of the UCT community we have lost to this deadly virus (and all lives lost during this period), and created a small space for each of us to reflect on the recent past and commit ourselves to a future of growth and healing as a community.

We salute the collective efforts of all our extraordinary staff, students and alumni who remained steadfast and focused in helping the university navigate one of its hardest times. This includes our experts and scientists who were in the frontline clinical work – whether it was treating patients, advising government through various ministerial advisory committees, or playing an active role in research initiatives and spearheading scientific efforts in the clinical trials for effective COVID-19 vaccines.

There were those who worked diligently in ensuring that the operations of the university ran smoothly despite the impact of the pandemic. These were our campus essential workers, such as cleaning staff and Campus Protection Services. This also includes all our staff working in the background, often online and frequently least noticed, to support our students and to ensure that UCT ran efficiently. I laud them for their courage and commitment.

I would like to thank UCT’s COVID-19 Coordinating Committee (CCC), chaired by the university’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr Reno Morar. It is tasked with continued close monitoring of any developments around COVID-19 and is working in partnership with the Department of Health, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the Western Cape Department of Health, and other spheres and agencies of government, as well as the executive and departments across UCT.

UCT was fortunate that there were valuable and effective digital resources at the beginning of the pandemic, and that members of our teaching staff were able to adapt to remote teaching. It was not perfect, but it was effective under difficult circumstances. Many had to stop their research work to adjust their teaching. We are continually learning valuable lessons that we are applying to the 2021 academic year.

South Africa’s Sisonke clinical trial of the investigational single-dose Janssen COVID-19 vaccine candidate began on 17 February 2021, at Khayelitsha Hospital, with President Cyril Ramaphosa, Dr Mkhize and various frontline healthcare workers among the first to receive the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. Professor Linda-Gail Bekker and Professor Graeme Meintjes, of UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences, were present for the auspicious occasion, and both played leading roles in the J&J vaccine trials.

The challenge now is to ensure that as many people are vaccinated as possible over the coming months. This provides a glimmer of hope following a year that has been filled with uncertainty.

I encourage all of us to remain vigilant, as the virus remains a reality. It is everybody’s responsibility to adhere to the COVID-19 regulations and protocols of social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing of masks in public, for the safety of all.

As always, let us not stop practicing kindness, understanding and empathy towards each other.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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UCT’s response to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March 2020. UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, has in June 2022 repealed some of South Africa’s remaining COVID-19 regulations: namely, sections 16A, 16B and 16C of the Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions under the National Health Act. We are now no longer required to wear masks or limit gatherings. Venue restrictions and checks for travellers coming into South Africa have now also been removed.

In July 2022, the University of Cape Town (UCT) revised its approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic on UCT campuses in 2022.
Read the latest document available on the UCT policies web page.


Campus communications


Adjusting to our new environment 16:50, 23 June 2022
VC Open Lecture and other updates 17:04, 13 April 2022
Feedback from UCT Council meeting of 12 March 2022 09:45, 18 March 2022
UCT Council
March 2022 graduation celebration 16:45, 8 March 2022
Report on the meeting of UCT Council of 21 February 2022 19:30, 21 February 2022
UCT Council
COVID-19 management 2022 11:55, 14 February 2022
Return to campus arrangements 2022 11:15, 4 February 2022

UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre

On Wednesday, 20 July, staff from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences came together with representatives from the Western Cape Government at the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre at Forest Hill Residence to acknowledge the centre’s significance in the fight against COVID-19 and to thank its staff for their contributions. The centre opened on 1 September 2021 with the aim of providing quality vaccination services to UCT staff, students and the nearby communities, as well as to create an opportunity for medical students from the Faculty of Health Sciences to gain practical public health skills. The vaccination centre ceased operations on Friday, 29 July 2022.

With the closure of the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, if you still require access to a COVID-19 vaccination site please visit the CovidComms SA website to find an alternative.


“After almost a year of operation, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, located at the Forest Hill residence complex in Mowbray, will close on Friday, 29 July 2022. I am extremely grateful and proud of all staff, students and everyone involved in this important project.”
– Vice-Chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

With the closure of the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, if you still require access to a COVID-19 vaccination site please visit the CovidComms SA website to find an alternative.

Thank You UCT Community

Frequently asked questions


Global Citizen Asks: Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe & Effective?

UCT’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) collaborated with Global Citizen, speaking to trusted experts to dispel vaccine misinformation.

If you have further questions about the COVID-19 vaccine check out the FAQ produced by the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF). The DTHF has developed a dedicated chat function where you can ask your vaccine-related questions on the bottom right hand corner of the website.

IDM YouTube channel | IDM website


“As a contact university, we look forward to readjusting our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in 2023 as the COVID-19 regulations have been repealed.”
– Prof Harsha Kathard, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

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.