17 March 2020
COVID-19 is presenting international educators around with the world with unprecedented challenges. As South African higher education institutions (HEIs) and their international partners are making difficult decisions regarding the wellbeing of their students and staff, their internationalisation activities are inherently affected.
With this communication, IEASA intends to provide an overview of current national and institutional developments in South Africa. It is not aimed at painting a comprehensive picture of all contexts and scenarios, which are ever-changing, but at highlighting some common trends. For more detailed and specific information, websites of individual HEIs and relevant national and international organisations should be consulted regularly.
On 15 March 2020, The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) noted the following:
While we continue to see an increase in COVID-19 positive cases in South Africa, there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is circulating in South Africa’s population; however, the status of COVID-19 transmission is increasingly likely to shift based on trends found in other parts of the world. We call on all South Africans to continue to follow COVID-19 preventive measures such as meticulous hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
On the same day, President Ramaphosa delivered an address declaring a national state of disaster. His outline of the national response to COVID-19 provides useful guidance for South African HEIs and their international partners. The full speech is available at https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/ramaphosa-on-covid-19-pandemic-read-the-full-speech-44935412. It has been summarised in bullet points as follows (Source: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-03-15-president-ramaphosas-covid-19-address-in-23-bullet-points/).
Government of South Africa declared the National State of Disaster
- Infected individuals as of Sunday 15 March 2020: 61
- Internal Transmission is occurring
- Appealed to SA to limit contact between persons
- Announced a travel ban from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and China as of 18 March 2020.
South Africans are to refrain from travelling to:
- The United Kingdom, the United States, Europe, China, Iran and South Koreas.
- People who visited high-risk countries as of mid-February – are required to present for testing
South Africa has 72 ports of entry via land, sea and airport
- There are 53 land ports, 35 of them shut down as of Monday
- Two out of 8 seaports closed for passengers
- Non-essential travel prohibited
- Non-essential domestic travel to be stopped
Groups of People
- Limit contact between groups of people
- Gatherings of more than 100 are prohibited
- All mass celebrations during public holidays cancelled
- Organisers to put in place stringent measures for less-than-100-people events
- Schools will be closed from Wednesday, 18 March 2020
- Schools will remain closed till after Easter
- Mining, retail banking & farming to introduce measures for hygiene control
- Shopping Malls and Entertainment centres to bolster hygiene control
Citizens to Change Behaviour
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitisers for a minimum of 20 seconds
- Cover nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, cover with a tissue or flexed elbow
- Avoid anyone with flu-like symptoms
- Minimise physical contact
- Use the elbow greeting, no shaking hands
Statement by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology
On 16 March 2020, the Minister issued a statement on measures to combat the COVID-19 epidemic at the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), which is available at http://www.dhet.gov.za/SiteAssets/Media%20Statement%202020/THE%20MINISTER%20OF%20HIGHER%20EDUCATION%2016%20March%20Statement.pdf.
For the DHET, the focus will be on developing a common national protocol and management plan across the sector. An important meeting with various stakeholders including Universities South Africa (USAf), the South African College Principals Organisation (SACPO) and the South African Students Union (SAUS) has been scheduled for 17th March 2020.
For the DSI, the focus will be on “mobilising funding, reprioritising research strategies and creating an enabling ethical and regulatory framework to facilitate research on the COVID-19 virus.”
While discussions between SA universities, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Universities South Africa (USAf) and other relevant stakeholders are ongoing, institutions around the country have, amidst growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, taken a number of decisions to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Immediate responses include the following:
- Development of emergency plans,
- Establishment of committees and task teams to monitor COVID-19 related developments and
- Dedicated information channels to provide regular updates to university communities.
On an ongoing basis, measures are taken to ensure academic continuity (e.g. e-learning), to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campuses (e.g. deactivation of biometrics systems; installation of hand sanitisers in key areas such as entry and exit points of buildings, pedestrian gates, bathrooms, lifts etc.; postponement or suspension of contact teaching and other academic activities) and to manage incidents related to suspected and confirmed cases (e.g. quarantine and treatment protocols). Many of these measures directly or indirectly affect internationalisation activities, including but not limited to the following:
- Banning of international and national non-essential travel, both inbound and outbound
- Essential or ongoing travel:
- Reporting requirements for travelling students, staff and visitors
- Protocols for return to campus (including self-isolation/quarantine)
Mobile Students and Staff
- International students and staff in South Africa as well as South African students and staff abroad for study/research/work purposes
- Health care provision
- Cancellation/postponement of international conferences on South African university campuses
- Cancellation/postponement of upcoming internationalisation conferences (March – May 2020):
Events on Campus (Including Graduations)
- Cancellation/postponement of events and public gatherings
- Cancellation/postponement of graduation ceremonies
- Alternative: graduations in absentia
Universities South Africa (USAf) has set up an online portal to share information regarding institutional responses to COVID-19, which includes practical information and guidance developed by member universities for their campus communities. Please consult https://www.usaf.ac.za/public-universities-spring-into-actions-towards-containment-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19/.
As circumstances around COVID-19 change rapidly, agility and flexibility will be required from all concerned. It is important to get regular updates from trustworthy sources.
World Health Organisation (WHO)
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)
COVID-19 hotline: 0800 029 999 (toll free)
SA Government’s Official COVID-19 Support Service (WhatsApp)
+27 600 123 456: Add this number to your WhatsApp contacts.
Type the word ‘hi’ in the message block and send.
Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology