Universities' Covid-19 infections being contained, officials signal

Wits and Stellenbosch report low infection numbers, UP containing outbreak

Higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande said investigation teams were working at institutions where pockets of infection had emerged. File photo.
Higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande said investigation teams were working at institutions where pockets of infection had emerged. File photo.
Image: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

The ministry of higher education, science and innovation says the cluster investigation team has been conducting Covid-19 screening, contact tracing and testing at 16 residences at the University of Pretoria (UP).

To date, 342 contacts have been identified and 100 students have tested positive, it said.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande had said on Friday he was concerned about pockets of Covid-19 outbreaks at some tertiary institutions, which had the potential to trigger a third wave of infections.

Investigation teams had been formed by Higher Health — the agency mandated to safeguard student health and wellbeing, the health department, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the National Health Laboratory Services to assist where pockets of infection had emerged at some institutions, he said.

Isolation areas have been set up within UP's main campus.

Higher education spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said: “Infections are being recorded exclusively in residence. No staff member has been confirmed infected since the outbreak. No student has been hospitalised.

“Extra isolation capacity is being developed within the campus residence and quarantine facilities are being secured through the help of the department of health.

“All final-year health science students who are patient-facing have been given an opportunity to vaccinate at Steve Biko [hospital] so that there is risk containment for themselves and their peers that they interact with,” he said.

UP spokesperson Rikus Delport on Tuesday said about 115 students had tested positive for Covid-19 at a few residences since March 19.

Delport said it was suspected that the virus was contracted off-campus at one or more of the pubs and restaurants regularly frequented by students in the Hatfield area.

“We have taken immediate action to manage the situation and facilitate full sanitisation of all communal areas as well as the areas specifically occupied by the affected students.”

Delport said discussions were under way on how best to address risky student behaviour beyond the confines of the residences and off-campus.

Stellenbosch University confirmed that except for an isolated outbreak in a section of the Huis Visser residence where nine people tested positive — of which eight are active cases — there was no indication of “super-spreaders” or “cluster” outbreaks at the moment.

“All indications at the moment are that the situation in the particular residence is under control after the whole section immediately isolated according to the relevant protocols,” said Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen.

Viljoen said over the past week there were 28 cases (students and staff) reported to the university.

“This includes isolated positive cases in some residences and the necessary protocols (which include self-isolation or isolation at home) are applied. This includes contact tracing in accordance with national guidelines,” said Viljoen.

The University of the Witwatersrand said it has not recorded an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in staff or students since the start of the academic year.

Wits senior communications officer Buhle Zuma said in the last two weeks, only three students had reported testing positive for Covid-19 and were studying from home.


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