Coronavirus: Some varsities shut doors, others wait following Ramaphosa's address

2020-03-16 10:35
(Picture: Gallo images/ Getty images)

(Picture: Gallo images/ Getty images)

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More and more South African universities have decided to shut their doors following President Cyril Ramaphosa's declaration of a national disaster.

In a statement on Twitter on Sunday, Nelson Mandela University said Ramaphosa's announcement that gatherings of more than 100 people were prohibited to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, only "applies to public gatherings and not to academic activities".

The university said it would be business as usual at the institution.

"All classes, tests, laboratory sessions, practicals and experiential learning activities will continue as normal. As the week of 16 March is the start of our second term, students are encouraged to make a special effort to attend all academic activities."

But a petition has now been started to compel the university to postpone classes and tests. The petition had more than 6 000 signatures at the time of publication.

By Tuesday morning, the university conceded and agreed that it would suspend all academic activities, including classes, research, assessments and work integrated learning (WIL) immediately. It added that following the end of recess, online or virtual learning, and other alternative platforms would be used until after the Easter weekend on 14 April.

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SU announced that its classes would go ahead while stakeholders discussed the matter.

"Lectures will continue at SU during the period of discussions between the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, VCs (vice-chancellors) of universities and Universities South Africa (USAf)."

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) is still deliberating its plan of action.

But many universities opted to postpone classes and graduation ceremonies following Ramaphosa's address.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) announced that it would suspend contact classes and postpone graduation ceremonies from Monday, but that staff would report for duty.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) suspended its academic programme "with immediate effect" on Monday morning.

"The UKZN academic programme is suspended (including tests) with immediate effect until further notice, pending further engagements on a sector-wide approach regarding contact classes," it said.

Two cases

The University of Cape Town (UCT) and Wits University also suspended classes and each confirmed a case of Covid-19 at their institutions.

In a statement, UCT's vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said the university decided to break immediately and suspend classes.

"We were persuaded of the importance of this step as a precautionary, proactive measure to minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus disease 2019," Phakeng said.

Meanwhile, Wits said all contact classes, including tests, and graduation ceremonies would be postponed and urged students to stay at home and practice social distancing.

Earlier on Sunday, Wits announced that a medical student who had been in isolation since Wednesday, had tested positive, despite being asymptomatic.

The University of the Free State (UFS) announced that it would go into early recess and suspend classes from Tuesday.

It notified students that the academic programme would continue on 14 April.

In a statement, the university said alternative methods of teaching and learning were being assessed and that students would be informed about methods as soon as possible.

The graduation ceremonies and related prize-giving ceremonies were postponed and open days were cancelled at the university.

READ | State of war: Ramaphosa takes command of Covid-19 response as national disaster is declared

UP said it would be suspend contact classes, graduation ceremonies, conferences, mass gatherings and events – including sporting activities – at the institution with immediate effect.

While there were no reported cases of infection among UP staff and students as of 16 March, the UP executive made the decision in line with the directives from Ramaphosa.

"All students are advised that there will be no contact classes, tests and assessments from Monday 16 March 2020 until mid-April 2020, when an assessment will be made with regard to resumption of contact activities," vice-chancellor and principal professor Tawana Kupe said.

UP residences will also be closed during this period.

"I remind our UP community that we are stronger together and our united efforts will help South Africa and the world turn the tide against this pandemic." 

Tshwane University of Technology students have been given until Friday to vacate all residential premises to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the institution confirmed.

The university has also postponed all its upcoming graduation ceremonies until further notice.

Vice-chancellor Lourens van Staden said all gatherings, including conferences, seminars and official meetings have been cancelled with immediate effect.

The March recess will be brought forward to Tuesday and will be extended to after the Easter weekend.

Van Staden urged students to vacate all residences by Friday to mitigate against the spread of the coronavirus.

Staff members and other stakeholders have been encouraged to use Skype for urgent meetings that can' t be postponed.

"Non-essential staff members may work from home on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, services will continue. Staff members are obliged to verify specific arrangements directly with their managers,"  Van Staden said.

The institution has implemented a moratorium on all official international travel until further notice.

Van Staden also advised that all non-essential domestic travels are prohibited until further notice.   

The Durban University of Technology (DUT) also announced that it would go into recess from Tuesday, with the second term expected to start on 14 April.

DUT management added that residences would remain open, but that the Dean of Students would develop a set of protocols that would apply to students in residence.

In line with measures that other universities have taken, DUT has also suspended graduation ceremonies and students placed in Workplace Integrated Learning (WIL) positions, will be suspended with immediate effect

"The DUT academic clinics aligned to the Faculty of Health Sciences for training and research purposes, will also be closed until further notice. This does not affect the Student Health and Counselling Department who offer regular services for other health related matters," DUT management said in a statement.

Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and instituted several measures to limit the spread of the deadly virus in South Africa.

There were 62 confirmed cases at the time of publication.

Later on the evening of Monday, the University of Fort Hare also released a statement saying they would be suspending lectures with immediate effect. 

The university confirmed that their response team on Covid-19 has been set up and is convened by Ms Ntombana Rala from the department of Nursing Science. This team will be working closely with the Eastern  Cape Province to slow the risk of the virus.

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Read more on:    su  |  uct  |  uj  |  wits  |  nmu  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  health  |  education  |  coronavirus
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