Walter Sisulu University (WSU) has suspended all contact classes, examinations and assessments at its East London campus for two weeks. Students will also be confined to their residences.
In a communiqué to staff and students on Sunday, vice-chancellor Professor Rob Midgley said this decision had been taken to avoid the spread of Covid-19 on the campus and in the greater Buffalo City community. Midgley said the decision was taken because 26 students from four residences in the Buffalo City campus and one staff member had tested positive for the virus.
“Provincial and university capacity is limited, however, management has had to reconsider its current-risk management process and improve our precautionary measures. Our priority is to protect staff and students; and also the Buffalo City residents with whom our students come into contact with when doing their shopping,” said Midgley.
The decision by the university comes after Midgley and University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu last week issued a joint media statement indicating their worry about the rising number of cases among students at their East London campuses in recent weeks.
At the time, WSU said it did not possess the final number of infected students, but was aware that students have been admitted to hospital.
Fort Hare said 26 more students had contracted the virus, in addition to the 30 the university had announced last week.
On Sunday, the Sunday Times reported that 125 students from Fort Hare had tested positive for the virus.
In the joint statement, Midgley and Buhlungu said their concern was necessitated by the fact that students from the two universities stay in and around Quigney in East London and tend to socialise together.
On Sunday last week, Fort Hare said that the students who had tested positive had contracted the virus from attending parties in Quigney and after they had been at a tavern, in the same suburb, where none of the Covid-19 safety regulations had been adhered to. In the joint statement, it emerged that students from WSU had also attended the same parties and had visited the tavern.
In his communiqué, Midgley said that as of today (Monday) until 8 November, academic and administrative contact activity between staff and students at the Buffalo City campus would be suspended. And, as of Tuesday students, will be confined to their residences until 8 November. The students will be given today to stock up on food, after which they will have to liaise with wardens if they need additional food while self-isolating. This will be delivered to them.
“I urge everyone to please assist us to implement the proposed safety measures. For us to protect each other, we need a concerted disciplined effort to contain this virus. We need to work together as a community and please let us not be reckless with other people’s lives,” said Midgley.
The decision by WSU comes after Universities South Africa (Usaf) — the association of the 26 vice-chancellors — on Thursday said it had “noted with grave concern, reports of reckless student behaviour on campuses” since lockdown levels one and two.
The organisation said students were throwing parties in their residences and attending night clubs where safety regulations were not being adhered to.
Under lockdown level two a maximum of 66% of students were allowed to return to campus; under level one universities are welcoming 100% of their students.
“Noting that Covid-19 remains alive and active in this country, as evidenced by over 1 000 new cases being reported daily, nationally, the vice-chancellors of all 26 public universities have cautioned students at their institutions to keep this in mind in their day-to-day behaviour on campuses and residences,” said Usaf in its statement.
The organisation said it was worried that universities will hugely contribute to the new wave of Covid-19 cases in the country.