[3 March] VC Circular - University Response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela
Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela

Dear Rhodes Staff and Students

We are all aware of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which originated in Wuhan, China in 2019 and has spread to other parts of the world. We are actively and closely monitoring the situation and making appropriate arrangements to mitigate its impact on the health, welfare and safety of our students and staff. To date, there are no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) reported in South Africa. That said, we note that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”

We have been briefed by the Eastern Cape Department of Health on the steps that have been taken to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) should it appear in our Province. Certain hospitals and other facilities have been designated and prepared to deal with any suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus. The Provincial Health Department has developed protocols and procedures to handle any suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19). The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is leading the national intervention plan to address a possible outbreak of the coronavirus.

As we approach the flu season, we anticipate that there might be heightened anxiety and panic among students and staff as the symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19) are similar to the common flu. This might lead to false alarms and stigmatisation, discrimination and ostracisation of some students and staff. We urge all students and staff to act in a responsible, compassionate and caring manner and with empathy and kindness towards other students and staff. Let us not create anxiety and panic unnecessarily. The NICD has expressed serious concern that the stigmatisation around the coronavirus (COVID-19) might drive people to hide their illness. This will also discourage people from seeking treatment and will no doubt lead to catastrophic consequences.

We are aware of the potential impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our academic and other University activities. We must re-iterate that the safety and well-being of our students and staff remain our primary concern. We have established a Coronavirus Response Task Team (CVRTT) under the leadership of our Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic & Student Affairs, Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, to lead our University’s preparations and implementation of our action plan to respond to the risks of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The members of the Task Team are:

  1. Dr Monnapula-Mapesela (DVC:A&SA and Chair)
  2. Dr Duma (Local Doctor)
  3. Prof Rosie Dorrington (DST/RNF SARChI Professor: Marine Natural Products Research, Professor: Microbiology)
  4. Dr Adele Moodly (Registrar)
  5. Prof Dave Sewry (Dean of Commerce)
  6. Sr Heather Ferreira (Health Centre)
  7. Ms Noma Mrwetyana (Director: Student Affairs)
  8. Ms Ndabula (Student Wellness)
  9. Mr Thandi Mzizi (Staff Wellness)
  10. Ms Tanaka Makaure (SRC Activism & Transformation Councillor)

Known facts:

  • There are many kinds of coronaviruses, including common cold, that cause respiratory illness. They are however notCOVID-19.
  • To become sick, one has to have been in close proximity to a person with the coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes; similar to how influenza and other respiratory viruses spread.


Signs and symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) may appear two to fourteen days after exposure. They include:

  • Typical of respiratory viruses, including the coronavirus (COVID-19), symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Runny nose, sore throat, headache and fever.

How to protect yourself:

While the coronavirus (COVID-19) currently has no treatment or vaccine, there are steps that people can take to reduce the risk of contracting it. Among other things:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or have flu-like symptoms. And when you feel sick, see a medical practitioner immediately and avoid contact with other people.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the garbage bin and wash your hands immediately.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.
  • If an individual does not have a high risk of exposure, it is very unlikely they have novel coronavirus. But if they are ill and concerned, they should contact a health care provider.
  • To help reduce the risk of acquiring the virus, the University discourages travels to countries that have reported confirmed cases of the virus.

We will continue to monitor the evolving situation with Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its potential impact on our academic activities and provide regular updates. You are also advised to visit:



Sizwe Mabizela

Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University


Source:  VC's Circular