2 May 2020

Dear Colleagues

RETURN OF STAFF TO OUR CAMPUSES

I hope that my message finds you well and healthy, despite working from home in an environment isolated from the university. I also hope that you are regularly engaging with your team and fellow colleagues, and that you are staying in touch with what is happening at the university through our communication platforms.  

I am deeply aware that the past weeks have presented tremendous challenges to our staff and their families and want you to know that we, as the executive, are aware of the pressure and anxiety our staff members are experiencing. I am proud of the way you have responded to the changing university environment, and I am thankful for the countless hours you have invested in ensuring that the academic programme, support to our students, and the university’s operations continued to function.

On 23 April 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa will implement a risk-adjusted strategy beyond the national lockdown period (30 April 2020), with a deliberate and cautious approach to ease the national lockdown restrictions. This phased approach to lifting the national lockdown is encouraging, as it is a good indication that the stringent measures implemented by our government are working. There is, however, still a high level of uncertainty about what lies ahead for our country in the months to come.

In line with the announcement by Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation on 30 April 2020, the UFS will proceed to bring back our staff to the campuses in a phased approach. The Staff Task Team – led by Prof Prakash Naidoo, Vice-Rector: Operations – has finalised a re-integration plan for staff (and students), which is based on the principle of social and physical distancing, as well as the fact that large numbers of staff cannot be allowed on the campuses at this stage.

In an endeavour to limit the spread of COVID-19, all staff members – except those categories of staff specifically mentioned in the re-integration plan – will continue working from home until they are officially informed by their line managers to return to work. Staff members should please note that they may be expected to return to work during this period if the situation so requires. This means that employees will be expected to be available and contactable by their line managers at all times during the normal UFS working hours.

I am aware that our staff members are concerned about their health and hygiene when they return to the campuses. I want to assure you that this is our first priority – to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our staff and students. The campus venues, residences, and general environment will be disinfected, deep cleaned (where necessary), and hygienically prepared.

This includes the decontamination of high-risk open areas and the availability of hand sanitiser stations at high-use entry and exit points in buildings. Air conditioning – the HVAC in all offices and appropriate venues – will be checked and where necessary, cleaned and sanitised. These measures will help ensure that it is safe for staff and students to return to our campuses. 

I am attaching a document that explains the re-integration plan in detail, including the arrangements for the return of staff to our campuses: the categories of staff, entry to the campus, wearing of cloth masks, social distancing, environmental hygiene, protocol for on-campus meetings, vulnerable members of staff, public transport, and the management of visitors during this period. The plan is based on regulations issued in terms of Section (27)2 of the Disaster Management Act, 2020, and will be amended as and when needed.  

We live in uncertain times, and I am aware that our staff experience this ever-changing world on a daily basis. According to the infection curve, South Africa has not yet gone through the peak of the pandemic – as our country is approaching winter, the worst is yet to come. Things are changing so quickly, and we should take pride in how rapidly we have already moved beyond what is comfortable and familiar; we must continue to encourage one another to remain steadfast in overcoming this pandemic.

I remind you to make use of the resources available from the Department of Human Resources, which can assist you during this time.

Best wishes for what I hope will be a safe and healthy remainder of the long weekend – remember to #StayAtHome.

Kind regards

Prof Francis Petersen

Rector and Vice-Chancellor 

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