16 Mar 2020
16 Mar 2020


Dear students and colleagues

I am writing to confirm some important decisions that we have taken today.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) executive and the Leadership Lekgotla, following the recent address by State President Cyril Ramaphosa and on the advice of a range of agencies and health specialists, took a decision this afternoon to break immediately for the Term 1 vacation and to suspend classes as from and including Monday, 16 March 2020.

We were persuaded of the importance of this step as a precautionary, proactive measure to minimise the risk of spreading Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The most important public health principle is containment of the disease as far as possible, including avoiding social gatherings and minimising groups of people gathering in one space.

We will therefore, in the context of the declaration of a national disaster, close the residences. Students must therefore vacate the residences within 72 hours from 16 March 2020.

The Term 1 vacation would have started on Saturday, 21 March 2020. It will now commence immediately.

Term 2 was set to commence on Monday, 30 March 2020, but we will confirm the beginning of Term 2 once we have had an opportunity to assess the prevailing and quickly changing circumstances.

We have now turned our focus on different ways to continue teaching and learning at UCT when we do commence with Term 2. We are mapping out the way forward and working with deans across campus. We will communicate our broader plan with respect to online learning by the end of the week, or as soon as possible thereafter. Postgraduate students are advised to continue working with their supervisors and to work off campus as far as possible. Any students with questions relating to their specific situations should contact their respective departments.

In terms of UCT staff, we have to ensure that work continues. Every member of the Leadership Lekgotla has been charged to give attention to those services and activities in their portfolios where staff can work remotely. Essential services will have to continue on campus, and we must minimise gatherings and work meetings while ensuring work continues wherever possible. It is important to work from the assumption that we are trying to shift work off campus as far as possible. Please be sure that all non-essential gatherings are therefore minimised, cancelled or postponed.

I am now also making you aware that we have a confirmed case of the virus on campus. Today we were made aware that a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member is in isolation at home. The Western Cape Department of Health has begun the contact tracing process and is contacting all those who were in close contact with our colleague as per the protocol prescribed by the provincial and national health agencies. Members of the university community who are well and who have been in close contact with the staff member have been instructed to remain in quarantine for 14 days while being monitored for symptoms. Currently the recommended action for a single case in a school or university is to remain open. Closure is only recommended if there are several cases. At UCT we have, however, for a variety of reasons, decided to bring our Term 1 vacation forward and hence to suspend contact classes immediately.

We understand that these decisions have significant impact and affect people in many ways. We believe that in line with national and international information and events, it is important to be proactive in our decisions and to work to assist the government in trying to prevent the virus from spreading.

We are also working with the provincial and national agencies to establish appropriate quarantine facilities for asymptomatic people. Any case where a person is symptomatic will be dealt with via the provincial and national guidelines and protocols.

We have already made public our decision to review plans for all large events and mass gatherings, whether hosted by UCT or by external service providers. We have reassessed travel and events, such as conferences and symposiums. As you will know we postponed the chancellor’s installation that was to be held on Monday, 16 March 2020. We also suspended the March graduation ceremonies, which were scheduled to start on Thursday, 19 March. The Registrar’s Office will send details to graduands about how they can receive their graduation certificates. We are also engaging with external service providers and event organisers about scheduled events for our campus and are considering alternative options.

We have agreed to cancel or postpone any UCT-related conferences and events until the end of June 2020. We will review this decision if necessary. In line with a number of other organisations, we have made the decision to suspend the approval of any university-related international travel until the end of June 2020. Consistent with these decisions, please note that the 2020 Two Oceans Marathon and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2020 have been postponed.

Please note that we use the following terms as prescribed by national health authorities: “quarantine” is a term used to describe people who are asymptomatic and who are restricting their movement because they have been in close contact with an infected person; “isolation” refers to people who have symptoms and may be required to be hospitalised, depending on the severity of their illness. The vast majority of patients with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and the disease can be managed by staying at home.

We urge all UCT staff and students, no matter where you are, to continue to follow the hygiene precautions that have been provided in previous communications:

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water (we have reopened taps that were closed during the water crisis to ensure we balance the need for good hygiene with responsible water usage)
  • regularly use an alcohol-based (≥60% alcohol) hand sanitiser
  • cover your mouth (using a tissue or your elbow) when coughing or sneezing
  • place used tissues directly into the bin, and wash your hands immediately afterwards
  • increasingly clean all surfaces that are frequently touched using normal cleaning products
  • avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • stay at home if you feel sick and contact your doctor or the Student Wellness Service.

Please regularly check the UCT Coronavirus Disease 2019 web page, which is being updated on a daily basis. Please also note these important telephone numbers:

  • NICD hotline 0800 029 999
  • Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS0800 111 3945 (a toll-free line available to UCT staff and their family members 24 hours a day)
  • UCT Student Wellness Service ;021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours)
  • UCT staff help line 021 650 5685.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the country on Sunday evening before 20:00, and I encourage you to watch the media conference.

The National Department of Health has also announced a WhatsApp service for queries related to COVID-19. Simply add 060 012 3456 as a WhatsApp contact and type Hi in the message block for access to relevant information.

Please also note that it is critical that we refrain as a community from stigmatising individuals that are affected. In addition, please do not spread rumours or unconfirmed information.

There are many unknowns as we go forward, but we will continue to communicate as we make decisions.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Updates will be posted on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 feature page on the UCT News website.

Read previous communications:


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