How South African universities are preparing for coronavirus

Universities South Africa (Usaf) — the association representing universities — said in February that vice-chancellors had been given a briefing about Covid-19 from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

This has informed their current response, it says. “Many have sprung into action gearing up their institutions for a concerted response when the epidemic arrives on their campuses.”

Usaf says it is hopeful that even those institutions that are lagging behind in their planning will draw inspiration from those that already have measures in place. 

Taking action

After the announcement of the first case of coronavirus in South Africa, on Friday the University of Pretoria (UP) said it had temporarily disabled the biometric access systems on all its campuses as precautionary measure and to minimise the possible spread of the virus. It took the decision on advice from medical experts. 

University of Free State vice-chancellor Professor Francis Petersen announced that the university has established a coronavirus task team composed of stakeholders from executive management, students and infectious diseases experts. 

Petersen said the task team would liaise and work with the Free State health department and the NICD to provide information to students and staff. That information will include updates on the preparedness of the institution for handling an outbreak.  

The University of KwaZulu-Natal has launched a “war room” as a way of tackling the coronavirus outbreak. 

Vice-chancellor Professor Nana Poku said the university’s College of Health Sciences is instituting large-scale, high-level surveillance, prevention and response measures to make sure that the institution is able to detect the virus in its vicinity. 

University of Cape Town acting vice-chancellor Professor Loretta Feris said the university has set up a business continuity management co-ordinating committee that is responsible for responding to the outbreak. The university has urged staff and students to consider postponing non-essential visits and has discouraged visits to high-risk destinations. 

At the Central University of Technology, an incident-management task team has been established as a proactive step to deal with the coronavirus.

Vice-chancellor Professor Henk de Jager said both the Bloemfontein and Welkom campus clinics were on high alert and would implement all actions as prescribed by the department of health to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Rhodes University has also established a coronavirus task team that will direct the university’s preventative measures. The task team will work closely with Eastern Cape department of health, the national department of health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. 

The university has also advised its staff and students to either cancel or delay their nonessential domestic or international trips to areas or regions that have confirmed cases. It has also asked that staff and students inform the international office on their return from high-risk regions in the world. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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