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Higher-education institutions around Africa close as the world combats Covid-19

With the world scrambling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, some institutions in the continent have suspended their academic activities as a way to prevent the spread of the virus. 

As of last week, a number of universities in South Africa announced that they had suspended their lecturers and all other campus-related activities as the country battles the virus. 

The University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand are the only two institutions in South Africa that have confirmed positive cases of the Covid-19. The country has 62 cases so far. 

Ghana

On Sunday, the office of the registrar at the University of Ghana announced that one of its students, who had gone on an international trip, had tested positive for the Covid-19. 

As a result, the institution announced that all lectures at all its campuses had been suspended. The university discouraged staff and students who reside off-campus from coming to campus while it was on a lockdown. It added that staff and students who stay on campus should not leave. 

The communiqué also stated that the university had already suspended any social gatherings, religious services and sporting activities on campus. 

The university’s hospital and students’ clinics are offering screening for the virus and some facilities at the institution have been designated as quarantine facilities. 

Ghana has confirmed six cases of people with the Covid-19. On Sunday, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including the closure of all universities and schools from Monday March 16 until further notice. 

Kenya

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday also suspended schools and said all universities should close by Friday. The country has only three confirmed cases of the virus. 

In a communiqué to staff and students on Monday, University of Nairobi vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Kiama said a special senate and university executive board meetings which were held on Monday agreed on suspending the academic activities. 

Students were asked to vacate the university premises on Tuesday morning. However, the international students who could not travel home were allowed to remain in their residences. 

Kiama said the closure would be reviewed within 14 days and a communication would be issued to staff and students. 

Essential services  such as the vice-chancellor’s office would continue to operate. 

“Staff are advised that the closure is not a holiday but a safety lockdown. They may, therefore, be called upon to perform various tasks within the period of closure. To this extent, staff are not supposed to travel far from their usual residences,” wrote Kiama. 

Professor Paul Wainaina, vice-chancellor of Kenyatta University, also announced its closure on Monday — with effect from Tuesday. The university has directed all students to vacate their rooms at residences, and international students who cannot travel to their homes to make arrangements with the university. 

Botswana

On Monday, the Botswana government announced measures to limit the spread of the virus. These include travel bans and suspension of public gatherings of more than 100 people for 30 days. The country has not recorded any cases of Covid-19. 

Last week the University of Botswana announced that it had implemented a temporary ban on international travel and receiving guests from other countries because of the pandemic, and that all its planned official travels had also been cancelled.

Namibia

Namibia has two positive cases of the Covid-19. On Saturday President Hage Geingob announced that all large public gatherings had been suspended for 30 days. Schools have also been closed. 

On Sunday the University of Namibia said that it had banned all staff travel outside the country until further notice. 

The institution has prepared isolation rooms on all its campuses, which it will use should any staff or students experience any symptoms of the virus while on campus. The university said staff from its school of medicine would be conducting training to prepare nurses and staff for any eventuality. 

Rwanda 

University of Rwanda vice-chancellor Professor Phillip Cotton announced the suspension of teaching activities at the university as of Monday. Cotton said students would be notified in due course about when the institution would reopen. He encouraged students to take advantage of the online teaching materials in the meantime. There is currently one case of the virus in the country. 

Other African countries that have closed their universities as a way to curb the spread of the virus include Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal and Sudan. 

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

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