Special team set up as Covid-19 spreads at SA universities

Many of the cases originate off campus but spread through academic activity

Blade Nzimande says cluster investigation teams have responded to recent outbreaks in an exemplary manner and as a result few or no new cases were recorded last week.
Blade Nzimande says cluster investigation teams have responded to recent outbreaks in an exemplary manner and as a result few or no new cases were recorded last week.
Image: GCIS

The higher education department has been forced into action as increasing numbers of university students are contracting Covid-19.

Minister Blade Nzimade and health department officials have set up a multidisciplinary investigation team to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks at institutions of higher learning after more than 600 students and staff tested positive for the virus.

Nzimande made the revelation during a media briefing on Thursday.

He said the team included members of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the health department and the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS). The team was expected to help manage and contain the outbreaks through early identification of infected students and staff, identifying their contacts and helping with early isolation and quarantine.

“Furthermore, we successfully negotiated with the NHLS to reduce the confirmation time for results. In the past few weeks more than 600 students and staff have been tested and those who tested positive have been isolated or admitted to quarantine and health facilities. Contacts have also been isolated and given the necessary support,” said Nzimande.

He said the cluster investigation teams had responded to recent outbreaks in an exemplary manner and as a result few or no new cases were recorded last week.

The Walter Sisulu University was the latest institution to be hit by an outbreak. On Wednesday, it announced that classes would be held virtually.

“In the past few days, after the trend across the province, we have experienced outbreaks of Covid-19 on all our campuses. Most of these cases originate elsewhere and then get transmitted to students and staff during academic activity.

“In the interest of occupational health and safety and to minimise risk of infection I hereby suspend all face-to-face academic activity  with immediate effect until further notice,” said vice-chancellor and principal Prof Rob Midgley.

Nzimande said he was confident most institution would be able to contain future outbreaks. He urged students to continue with health and safety protocols.

“We do anticipate more cluster outbreaks, across other provinces and institutions and I appeal to students and staff to stick to preventive measures — including wearing of masks, proper handwashing, avoiding handshaking and social and physical distancing,” he said.

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