Concern over rise in Covid-19 infections at tertiary institutions
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Cape Town - Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande, student organisations and unions have warned about the growing number of Covid-19 cases in institutions of higher learning.
Nzimande said he was concerned with reports of pockets of Covid-19 infections within the post-school education and training sector, and appealed to students and staff to remain vigilant and adhere to the Covid-19 regulations and Higher Health Protocols and guidelines as the 2021 academic year gets under way.
Nzimande said he recently received a briefing from higher health, the agency mandated by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET ) to safeguard student health and well-being, that the current outbreaks across some of their institutions were extremely worrying.
SA Students Congress (Sasco) spokesperson Luvuyo Barnes said Sasco has consistently urged the government to act on institutions which allegedly flouted health and safety measures.
Barnes said the continued disinfecting of work spaces and student residences would go a long way in curbing further spread of the virus.
National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) general secretary Zola Saphetha said the union had pleaded with the DHET to ensure that all institutions were ready to welcome back workers and students including putting all necessary measures in place to avert Covid-19 infections.
Saphetha said that was after the department allegedly failed to consult labour as an important stakeholder in the sector.
He said it seemed their calls fell on deaf ears as they are now faced with a growing number of Covid-19 cases.
"Once again, we reiterate our call for the department not to cut corners as this will lead to loss of lives and more disruption to the academic calendar," he said.
Higher Health chief executive Ramneek Ahluwalia said they have been working closely with all institutions, Department of Health, National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the National Health Laboratory Service and have established cluster outbreak investigation teams.
Ahluwalia said just in the last fortnight, more than 3 000 students and staff have been screened and contact traced, with over 300 individuals tested.
"Enabling access to early testing, contact tracing and getting quick laboratory results, through our collaborations with the health authorities, helps towards early isolation for those who are suspected to be infected or at high risk and moving the positives to quarantine facilities, assists in breaking the chain of cluster outbreaks," he said.