Update on planning to facilitate a return to the workplace and resumption of face-to-face teaching and learning and other activities

16 November 2021

Dear UP staff and students

With the end of the academic year around the corner and examinations starting in a few weeks, it is a good time for me to share with you the planning around a return to campus and the resumption of face-to-face teaching and learning and other activities in 2022.

First, I would like to thank everyone who has participated in the risk assessment and especially in the vaccination status survey. The response was hugely encouraging, and I believe it sends a strong message about the desire of students and staff to return to some sense of normality. Approximately 10 000 students participated in the survey (I’m told it is the best response we have had to any recent survey) and more than 70% have indicated that they are fully or partially vaccinated. Another 9.6% specified that they are still planning to get vaccinated.

Close on 2 500 staff members have completed the survey of whom 80% are fully or partially vaccinated. An additional 10% specified that they were still planning to be vaccinated.

The availability of vaccines to all persons aged 12 and above has created a real and welcome prospect that the University may be able to incrementally re-open its campuses to face-to-face activities during the last quarter of 2021 with a view to a more significant re-opening for the 2022 academic year.

With the various vaccines that are proving to be effective in limiting the spread of the virus and in preventing serious illness and death from the virus amongst the vaccinated population, the Higher Education Sector is anticipating the safe return of its employees to the workplace and the re-opening of its campuses for face-to-face university activities. The key word here is of course “safe”.

The University’s position on vaccinations

We strongly encourage everyone to vaccinate. We want everyone to vaccinate. Vaccines protect everyone’s health and significantly reduce severe illness, hospitalisation and death. Vaccines are safe. Those who have doubts or are hesitant should seek more information from medical experts, including staff from our Faculty of Health Sciences.

Pro-active steps

The University is taking proactive steps to ensure that we have an appropriate plan in place for the re-opening of our campuses for the 2022 academic year. The process must be carefully managed, taking risks associated with it into account.

While the University recognises that staff and students have certain constitutional rights, the plan will create the framework within which UP can flourish whilst reintegrating staff into the workplace and students into the study space in a safe and sustainable manner, without unnecessarily infringing upon their constitutional rights.

That said, the risk assessment process has identified some areas of operation where vaccination is required. This requirement is informed by science and limited to the identified area and based on an identified need to protect staff, students and/or third parties. For example, in the area of Health Sciences. The ongoing risk assessment process may identify further areas such as Education and others, where work-integrated learning poses a real risk to the students and those who interact with them.

The University will consider practical steps to accommodate students and staff who elect not to be vaccinated on medical or religious grounds. Among some of the measures currently under consideration and which will be confirmed once discussions with all stakeholders have concluded, are to:

  1. undertake daily health screening prior to being allowed entry onto campus;
  2. always wear an N95 mask (at their own cost) on campus, including in lectures, laboratories,           on field excursions, during tutorials, seminars and research meetings, and/or during          assessments;
  3. provide a weekly negative PCR test (at their own cost) for COVID-19 infection, irrespective              of whether or not they have symptoms.

Exemptions

Any vaccine rule(s) will be subject to verifiable exemptions.

  1. A person may be exempted on medical grounds (on confirmation from a medical professional that COVID-19 vaccination poses a significant medical risk). The University may require further medical verification.
  2. A person may be exempted on religious grounds.

Exemptions will be considered by a properly constituted and skilled evaluation panel. The panel will consider all applications for exemption based on fixed criteria and the provision of supporting documentation.

Unvaccinated individuals will have limited access to certain high-risk areas or events. This could include participation in sporting activities, social events or visiting friends in residence.

Thank you for working with us as we work towards returning to in-person activities. I look forward to welcoming those who have not yet returned to campus in 2022.

Good luck with your preparations for the examinations.

Kind regards,

 

Prof Tawana Kupe

Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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