The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has called on all universities and other institutions such as TVET Colleges to immediately close to avoid putting students at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Some institutions, including Wits University, the University of Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town, have already temporarily cancelled all classes and tests.

This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the coronavirus outbreak a national disaster on Sunday night.

62 confirmed cases have now been reported in the country.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise across the country, the South African Union of Students (SAUS) has made a clarion call to all universities and institutions of higher learning to shut their doors, until further notice.

SAUS says this is the only way to ensure that students aren’t at risk of contracting the virus. Spokesperson Thabo Shingange says they are concerned as a union.

“As a union, we are concerned about the rapid increase and the spread of the coronavirus across the country and across the globe. So, as the union, our position is simple; close down the universities and they must utilise other means of engagement, be it online submissions of assignments and so on, but the academic programme must go on, but it cannot continue when it puts students health at risk. So, they must take the matter seriously. Universities are closed until there is a serious plan to deal with the coronavirus on our campuses,” says Shingange.

In Johannesburg, Wits University is advising students to self-quarantine to avoid contracting the virus. A medical student at the University has tested positive for the virus.

However, the National Department of Health is yet to conduct its own testing. Wits Spokesperson Shirona Patel says all students have been requested to stay at home.

“All students are requested to remain at home or to confine themselves at their rooms and residences. Students are encouraged to follow the social distance guidelines and to limit interaction where this is possible. Special arrangements are being made for students who usually eat in dining halls. Wits University will keep the public informed as to plans from Tuesday onwards after consultation with the department of health and the department of higher education and training. The university asks all students and staff to exercise caution and not to panic,” says Shirona.

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The Student Representative Council (SRC) at Wits has welcomed management’s decision to cancel all classes. Secretary General of the SRC, Katie Morgets, says although they welcome the decision to cancel classes, it may have a detrimental impact on their academic programme.

“We are very pleased that the university has heeded to the call in order to limit further exposure to the virus which could affect the lives of many students, negatively so. However, we are very conscious of the fact that this also impedes on the very academic programme that we are trying to achieve and not obviously impact negatively,” says Morgets.

Countries affected by SA travel ban:

Copy of epidemic v pendamic by SABC Digital News

The University of KwaZulu-Natal has also suspended all academic activities until further notice.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nana Poku, says in a statement that the decision has been taken to limit the possible spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the management of the University of Zululand, on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal will meet on Monday, to make a decision about the suspension of academic activities.

Other universities including the University of Johannesburg and the University of Cape Town have also temporarily suspended their academic programmes, with more expected to soon follow suit. However, despite calls for universities to completely shut down, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande, says a decision is yet to be taken.

“We will have to meet with the sector tomorrow morning to actually look at a comprehensive way to move forward on this situation but let me highlight what we have agreed upon in light of what the president had said and the other work we have been doing. Firstly, we have said that contact in institutions must be limited. And we are urging that all institutions should suspend all contact lectures as well as minimise contact with students but we are not yet planning a shutdown,” says Nzimande.

In this video below plans to prevent COVID-19 at tertiary institutions are discussed by Nzimande: