Nzimande urges universities to take social distance protocols seriously to combat coronavirus

2020-03-17 20:08
Higher Education and Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande. (Morapedi Mashashe)

Higher Education and Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande. (Morapedi Mashashe)

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Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has urged universities to heed appropriate social distance protocol to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Nzimande and higher education stakeholders have agreed that each institution would develop its own mitigation plan for residences to ensure protocols and controls were in place to minimise the spread of the virus.

This after some universities, such as the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwaterstrand, asked students to vacate their residences within 72 hours.

Some institutions have also taken the decision to close early for the Easter holiday, while others suspended contact classes and made use of online facilities.

Early recess

"It is not a shutdown," Nzimande said. "It's an early recess".

UCT spokesperson Elijah Maholola confirmed the institution only had one confirmed case of Covid-19. The number of people the staff member had had contact with on the campus is estimated to be 30 or less.

"The staff member and all the UCT contacts, who have been traced, will remain in self-isolation for 14 days and the process will be managed by the Western Cape Department of Health," he said.

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Cape Peninsula University of Technology spokesperson Lauren Kansley said students were encouraged to vacate residences so they could deep-clean them, which is common practice during recess, adding they were not being forced to leave.

"Residences are being Covid-equipped because our turnstiles and other high-frequency areas are being sanitised every 15 minute," Kansley said.

Speaking to members of the Universities South Africa (USAf), South African College Principals Organisation (SACPO), South African Union of Students and labour unions the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union, Public Servants Association of South Africa and National Tertiary Education Union, Nzimande said all parties have agreed to work in solidarity to tackle the epidemic.

On Monday, the department established a Covid-19 team comprising the USAf, SACPO and Department of Health to co-ordinate a sector response and collate institutional case management reports.

President Cyril Ramaphosa previously enforced the closure of all schools, starting on Wednesday until early April.

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