Wits University develops continuity plan amid coronavirus cases in SA

Wits University has temporarily deactivated its biometric system that gives people access to buildings via fingerprint scans, a system said to be conducive to the spread of viruses from person to person.
Wits University has temporarily deactivated its biometric system that gives people access to buildings via fingerprint scans, a system said to be conducive to the spread of viruses from person to person.
Image: KEARA EDWARDS

Wits staff and students will be able to work and study from home should a coronavirus outbreak hit the university.

The institution said it had developed a plan to be implemented if the university had to shut down for a short period in light of the coronavirus.

So far, seven people have tested positive for the virus in South Africa. Six of them are in KwaZulu-Natal but one person, a woman, is being treated at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, which is close to the university's medical campus.

Already, the campus biometric fingerprint system has been disabled in an attempt to prevent an outbreak.

Speaking to SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE, the university said an academic recovery plan had been developed to ensure students and staff can learn and study remotely. However, this wasn't without its issues.

“This does present challenges for people doing group experiments in laboratories, for example. Further deliberations are under way around this and internet access. Wits has to date developed a detailed protocol to manage any reported case of the virus on campus,” said university spokesperson Buhle Zuma.

The university said it was in regular contact with professors in the health sciences faculty and at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to determine the best practices for managing the virus should it reach the Wits community.

The institution's biometric fingerprint system has been turned off as this has been identified as a high risk for spreading the virus.

“The biometric system, which uses fingerprint scanning, has been identified as a possible risk in spreading the disease. Therefore, a decision was taken to temporarily suspend it. Wits’ occupational health and safety team is identifying risks and additional precautions to be taken,” Zuma said.

Zuma said the university was working with its international office and travel agency to identify any employees or students who may be coming to the campus from high-risk areas.

“A decision on inbound and outbound international travel and the hosting of conferences will be made tomorrow,” Zuma said.

The University of Pretoria last week started the process of temporarily disabling its biometric access systems on all campuses in light of the first reported case of Covid-19 in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday.

The university said it was a precautionary measure to minimise the possible spread of the virus.

The University of Johannesburg said its biometric system would be suspended with effect from Thursday and until further notice.

Meanwhile, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is calling for more proactive measures by the government towards curbing the spread of the virus.

Sadtu said no attempts had been made to ensure workplaces complied with labour standards to mitigate against the spread of the virus.


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