COVID-19 update: research activities

18 March 2020 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear students and colleagues

In response to the call by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening, 15 March 2020, for the nation to take all possible steps to minimise the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the University of Cape Town (UCT) has opted to remain operational, but to minimise physical contact as far as possible.

While the Term 1 vacation has commenced immediately, the university will continue to function, but with limited physical contact as much as possible. Please note that all scheduled tests have also been cancelled.

Research support offices and library services remain available

While the UCT Libraries will close physically from Wednesday, 18 March to restrict transmission through social distancing and limiting physical contact with materials, they are open for virtual support for teaching and learning, and research. Reference and information hotlines have been created and will be available from 08:30 to 17:00. For more details of this virtual service please consult the website.

Other 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.

Please keep an eye on the Research Announcement newsletter for updates.

Recommendations for human research studies and research sites

All activities where people are brought together for research purposes and where research staff are placed at risk should be urgently reviewed to determine the risk for COVID-19 transmission. In most instances, these activities will need to be halted or redesigned to remove the potential for transmission if possible. We urge all researchers to act within the spirit of ‘ethics of responsibility’.

We recommend that each human research study or study site develop a plan to reduce research activities. Only study visits where benefits outweigh the potential harm of COVID-19 infection should take place.

The prospect of direct participant benefit (where the benefit outweighs the potential harm) applies primarily to certain types of clinical research and is unlikely to apply in a social, behavioural or educational research context. This latter type of research should be postponed until further notice unless there is a very exceptional reason not to do so.

Read the complete recommendations from the Faculty of Health Science Human Research Ethics Committee.

Postgraduate research

Wherever 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.

Postgraduates in taught courses will begin Term 1 vacation this week. When classes start again they will be offered online for students to continue their studies remotely.

Where postgraduate students are doing field work, judgement is required on whether the work can continue. Research involving human subjects is discussed above. Other field work should be considered on a case-by-case basis, to minimise the spread of the virus, and protect both the field sites and researchers. In most cases, continuation is unlikely to be possible.

There are, however, postgraduates involved in research in laboratories or studios, whose work cannot simply be stopped. This work will need to keep going and we advise these postgraduates to work with their supervisors to ensure low-density working conditions and to implement all the recommended hygiene measures (as outlined in the VC Desk of 15 March 2020). We advise those who do not need to be in laboratories or studios to stay off-campus and focus on reading, writing and other desk work to ensure that we can keep the on-site spaces low-density and minimise the spread of the virus.

Conference travel funding

This is a global crisis and conferences around the world have been cancelled and postponed. This means that many of our researchers have been funded for conferences they cannot attend. Because many of those conferences are postponed rather than cancelled outright, researchers can keep the conference funds already paid to them and use that money to attend the conference when rescheduled.

We know there are cases where researchers were only partially reimbursed for cancelled travel arrangements. Please keep track of how the money was spent and what was lost in cancellation fees, and the Research Office will look to reimburse those lost funds when the situation has improved and postponed conferences are rescheduled.

As always, researchers have a responsibility to report to the Research Office how conference travel funds were spent. This will allow the Research Office to keep track of funds pushed over and funds lost through cancellation.

The next conference travel call, for the first half of 2021, is planned to continue as normal. The Research Office will accept applications when that call opens in mid-August 2020.

This is a time of great uncertainty, but we are fortunate to have advanced communications and networking technology at our fingertips, which means much of our work can continue uninterrupted. I encourage you all to think virtual first when arranging meetings.

As an institution and as a country, we can keep the virus’s spread to a minimum if we practice the recommended hygiene and safety precautions, and behave in a way that is responsible and cognitive of the threat.

To stay informed, please regularly visit the UCT Coronavirus Disease 2019 web page, which is being updated daily.


Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

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.

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. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

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Campus communications


New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

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.

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Statements from Government


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.