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South Africa publishes pandemic plan for universities


Management, students and unions urged to sign ‘social compacts’

Conferences will return and students will have to promise to behave under a new coronavirus policy for South African universities gazetted by higher education minister Blade Nzimande on 29 March.

The policy urges university management, student leadership, and unions to sign social compacts to cooperate in the fight against the virus. 

“The pandemic will remain with us for some time and will pass through different intensity waves until the vaccination programme has been fully implemented,” it states.

The policy places the onus on individual universities to come up with their own plans that align with national legislation in terms of gathering sizes, safety and social distancing. However, it proposes conditions by which all universities will have to abide.

Conferences and workshops are allowed under the policy if they adhere to the national risk alert level. Under levels three to five all physical events are prohibited, while under levels one and two they can take place subject to capacity restrictions, social distancing, and health checks.  

International students and staff are welcome to return from abroad as long as they adhere to immigration regulations, including testing protocols and quarantine. Those who cannot return because of restrictions where they find themselves must be supported remotely.

All students in residences must sign a commitment to safe behaviour and promise not to participate in “risky off-campus activities”. There is no limit on the number of students allowed in residences.

Mask-wearing will remain mandatory in all public spaces on campus, and universities must screen people who come to campuses for Covid-19 symptoms. 

Universities should identify students who lack internet connectivity or “live in places that are not conducive to studying” and accommodate them on or off-campus, the policy states.

Each university must have a Covid-19 response task team while the national state of disaster holds. Teaching and learning plans should focus on social distancing and health, with blended learning to continue as the main mode of instruction for the 2021 academic year.

There are also regulations for exams, which include quarantining papers for 12 hours and only filling exam venues to 50 per cent capacity.