Nzimande worried about pockets of Covid-19 infections at tertiary institutions
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Johannesburg – Minister of Higher Education Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande has expressed concern about reports of pockets of Covid-19 infections within the post-school education and training sector.
Nzimande on Friday appealed to students, lecturers and all staff to remain vigilant and adhere to the Covid-19 regulations and Higher Health protocols as the 2021 academic year gets under way.
The minister received a briefing from Higher Health, the agency mandated by his department to safeguard student health and well-being, that the current outbreaks across some institutions are extremely worrying.
Nzimande confirmed only the University of Pretoria had experienced a small cluster outbreak. However, there were pockets of positive cases at other universities and TVET colleges.
He said the cases were not yet classified as cluster outbreaks.
“Fifty-five students from the University of Pretoria have tested positive up until 31 March, 2021. We are aggressively working on contact tracing with the help of the Department of Health and have tested and screened a large number of students and staff over the last few days.
“Higher health is still screening and testing this week, for which results are still awaited. There is a probability that the number of positive cases may rise,” said Nzimande.
He said while Covid-19 had largely been detrimental for the older population, the virus was mutating and new variants were showing a higher affinity towards young people, who could serve as carriers and hasten the spread of infection.
“Unfortunately, that would fire up the third wave,” said Nzimande.
Nzimande said Higher Health, working with the institutions, the Department of Higher Education, the NICD and the NHLS had formulated cluster outbreak investigation teams.
Nzimande revealed over 3 000 students and staff were being screened and contact-traced, with over 200 being tested so far.
“Fast testing results, early isolations and moving to quarantine facilities have helped us so far to contain current and previous outbreaks.
“Further, the Department of Health and Higher Health had developed screening stations around the affected residences. Higher Health mobile unit, institutional campus clinic, occupational health, employee wellness teams are also stationed, offering psychosocial and other health and wellness assistance to the affected residents,” said Nzimande.
He said Higher Health has organised training of more than 180 staff members working in security, residences, cleaning staff, student support, among others, on all Covid-19 protocols and disinfection measures.
As part of a move to curb the spread of Covid-19, Higher Health utilise HealthCheck, a digital platform used for screening and monitoring tool for assessing one’s level of risk prior to entering campuses. It transmitted data to the national tracking system.
To assist students, a 24-hour toll-free helpline 0800 36 36 36 was available or SMS 43336.