In recent weeks, several announcements have been made on developments in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic generally and, with regards to the higher education sector.
These include the shift from lockdown alert level 5 to alert level 4, which allows for the resumption of some level of economic activity, and departmental plans regarding the phased return to campuses as announced by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande.
Nelson Mandela University has developed plans for the eventual return to campus in accordance with the set regulations. The University remains committed to completing the 2020 academic year. At the same time, the University endeavours to safeguard the health and wellbeing staff and students.
The University’s Coronavirus Task Team (CTT), which is coordinating the operational institutional response to COVID-19, has put forward various plans as it prepares for the gradual resumption of on-campus activities.
Screening and Testing
Plans are underway to provide facilities for screening and testing of staff and students, and visitors to university campuses. Screening will be done upon entry to the University and throughout the day. All positive screenings will be referred to the relevant authorities for testing. The University is liaising with the district Department of Health in this regard.
The University is procuring, in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), relevant personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as masks, shields, gloves, etc.
Deep cleaning of University spaces is ongoing and will be intensified in preparation for the eventual return of staff and student to campuses. All frequently used spaces and communal facilities will be disinfected. This will include residual spraying and the disinfection of offices, lecture halls, ablution facilities and residences, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
These guiding principles strike a balance between our commitment and maintenance of a safe working environment, and the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace through compliance with the prescribed behavioural practices.
As such, a phased “return-to-work strategy” underpins the principles of our staff health and safety, based on government’s five coronavirus risk alert levels; while also focusing on alternative ways of learning and teaching aimed at completing the 2020 academic year.
These protocols provide the platform to review and regularise policies and practises aligned with the “new working norms,” of only a third of staff being allowed in the workplace at level 4. The University’s essential and critical services form part of this returning cohort, bar those staff members whose age, pre-existing health conditions and/or other risk factors could be compromised. To operationalise the phased “return to work strategy”, line managers are in the process of categorising staff, in order to comply with only a third of staff being allowed in the workplace at level 4, in line with national guidelines; to ensure physical and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus on campus.
Infrastructure and Facilities
Social distancing is an essential intervention for containing the spread of COVID-19. The University has plans to implement this directive through infrastructure and facilities management efforts. Considering that universities are generally spaces of mass gatherings, much thought has been gone into ensuring the management of spaces and facilities compliance with the set COVID-19 regulations.
These plans are centred on effective access management and active monitoring of numbers coming in and out, especially in high traffic areas. This includes ensuring single entry and exit points on campuses, and into buildings, limiting the number of people using lifts, giving priority to differently abled persons, monitoring numbers in lecture halls in consultation with time-tabling, and introducing signage to ensure physical and social distancing.
With more than one third of the world living under varying degrees of lockdown in a bid to prevent a rapid spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the reliance and role of digital platforms and tools has taken centre stage. This is particularly so at Nelson Mandela University, where the work of ICT Services is enabling us to continue with our core business of learning and teaching albeit virtually.
More than 28 000 students subscribing to the major Mobile Network Operators have received data bundles to enable them to participate in online learning during the lockdown period. In addition, plans are afoot to finalise the student laptop offer for students that elected to participate. The University continues to provide various technology infrastructure and tools to enable staff to seamlessly work remotely.
As we monitor developments around the national response to the pandemic, work continues within the University on institution-specific measures that has the wellbeing of staff and students as its priority. Detailed information will be shared as these plans are firmed up and implemented.
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