Search for ways to avert more Covid-19 infections at universities, Newsline

Pretoria – Failure by students to adhere to lockdown safety regulations by hosting parties and carelessly mingling is of great concern and needs urgent action.

The matter was raised at the meeting of the board of directors of Universities of South Africa, which deliberated on ways to ensure students did not turn universities into source of Covid-19 infections.

At the meeting, vice-chancellors reached a consensus to work jointly in addressing the issue.

Board spokesperson Mateboho Green said: “Noting that Covid-19 remains active in the country as evidenced by more 1 000 new cases being reported daily, the vice-chancellors of all 26 public universities have cautioned students to keep this in mind in their day-to-day behaviour on campuses and in residences.”

They spoke of reports that students mingled recklessly, threw parties within residences and visited nightclubs with not much regard for the safety protocols that institutions had put in place.

“In addition to the standards of behaviour adopted by all public universities at the onset of the pandemic in March, institutions had set additional safety protocols and communicated them widely, as they welcomed students back on campuses.”

Fresh reports of the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections in students had been seen at the East London campuses of the University of Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu University, heightening fears for the board that students were not heeding the call to uphold the widely communicated safety protocols.

“The two institutions have confirmed that in October some of their students attended parties at clubs and taverns, where there was non-compliance and safety protocols.

“These were attended by as many as 300 patrons, thus it was no surprise that within a week of those incidents, Fort Hare recorded 33 cases of Covid-19, with that number soon increasing by 26. Furthermore, other institutions were forced to activate quarantine facilities when students developed symptoms,” said Green.

The vice-chancellors took this in serious light, with board members and chief executive Professor Ahmed Bawa pointing out the cases recorded confirmed a real threat of new outbreaks starting in university residences.

Green said board members expressed concern that students heading home for a mid-term break could transfer the virus to family members.

They agreed on the importance and urgent formation of a social compact in development – to be circulated to all campuses soon.

“The compact aims to advocate and reinforce behavioural protocols such as safe hygiene, wearing masks and social distancing championed since the pandemic broke out.”

Green said: “As universities continue admitting students back into campuses to ensure they catch up with learning, they cannot on their own guarantee social distancing.”

Pretoria News