'We can't force Wits to test all of you,' judge tells university law students

Two Wits law students brought an application seeking to halt the evacuation of students from Wits campus residences, after a medical student tested positive for Covid-19.
Two Wits law students brought an application seeking to halt the evacuation of students from Wits campus residences, after a medical student tested positive for Covid-19.
Image: Gallo Images

The high court in Johannesburg has expressed reservations about an application brought by two law students from the University of the Witwatersrand who want to stop the evacuation of students from campus residences.

The two students brought the urgent application after the institution announced on Monday that it had suspended the academic programme after one of its medical students having tested positive for Covid-19.

The university isolated 350 students who might have had contact with the student.

Its decision to go into early recess comes after the senior executive team met on Monday to discuss a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The two law students were concerned that if students evacuated the campus, they might pose a risk to their communities, as not all of them had been tested.

However, Judge Sharise Weiner said what the students were asking was against everything that President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday on measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“What the president said is that if you are not showing symptoms, you can self-quarantine and not get tested until you show symptoms. It is not up to Wits to test all students,” Weiner said.

Weiner also said there were only two applicants in the matter, students Lerato Moela and Matsobane Shaun Matlhwana.  

“Other students have gone home as opposed to staying in campus residences, in close quarters,” she said.

The judge said the risk of contracting coronavirus was much higher if one stayed on campus rather than self-isolating at home.

Weiner said the decision to evacuate the campus was made by the Wits executive committee, which has not been joined in the application. The applicants cited only Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib and dean of students Jerome September as respondents.

“There is nothing that Habib and September can do to comply with the relief sought,” Weiner said.

The judge said the relief the two students seek was incompetent.

“We cannot force the university to test all of you” — as the testing of thousands of students would place a heavy burden on the health system.

“I am afraid to say it. This application is an overkill.”

However, Moela said the student who tested positive did not show symptoms before being tested. Moela said there was a possibility the student might have had contact with other students.

He said the university conveniently capped the number of students who were isolated at 350.

The judge said other universities were taking the same precautions and evacuating students from residences.

Moela said he had not heard of students in those universities contracting the disease, as was the case with Wits.

The matter continues.


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