24 March 2020

UFS implements measures for staff to manage the national lockdown


Dear Colleagues

I hope that you are keeping a level of calmness in this difficult and exceptional time.  The announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 23 March 2020 that South Africa will enter a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from midnight on Thursday 26 March 2020 to midnight on Thursday 16 April 2020, has left many of our staff members anxious. It has, on the other hand, made South Africans work together towards the common goal of flattening the COVID-19 curve so as to ease the immediate pressure on the country’s health system.

My message to you this evening is to explain the measures implemented by the executive management of the University of the Free State (UFS) to manage the lockdown.

1. Essential services
As you know, only essential services will be allowed to continue operating nationally. This also applies to our three campuses.

During a meeting of university vice-chancellors with Universities South Africa (USAf) this morning, it was indicated that only services classified as essential (e.g. safety and security services) may continue during the lockdown period.

There are, however, critical university operations such as Information Technology, the Animal Sciences Unit, key laboratory and research services, which are currently not formally accredited with the relevant authorities to access the university during lockdown. USAf is raising this as a matter of urgency with the inter-ministerial committee of the Presidential Command Centre.

I will keep these functions updated on the progress made by USAf over the next 24 hours, but as it stands now, these functions would not be able to access our campuses during lockdown.

2. Closing of the campuses
All three campuses will close as from 16:00 on Thursday 26 March 2020. Only staff providing accredited essential services (i.e. security staff and emergency maintenance services) will continue working from Thursday 26 March 2020 onwards. This means that no one will be able to access the campuses after 16:00 on Thursday unless they form part of the accredited essential services.

Only the main gates of the campuses will be open; there will be strict access control, including a register to sign in and out. Only staff belonging to those functions that are vetted by the relevant authorities will be allowed access onto our campuses. Further communication in this regard will be sent by the Department of Human Resources to all members of senior management to share with staff on Wednesday 25 March 2020.

However, it needs to be noted that the national security protocols will surpass these arrangements if and when needed. 

The respective deans will make arrangements with staff involved in research projects that need attending to, those who have to check research equipment, and those who work in certain laboratories – all barring prior accreditation by the relevant authorities.  

3. Residences
Most students have vacated the residences, except for a small number of postdoctoral and international students who will remain on campus during lockdown. The Office for International Affairs and the Department of Housing and Residence Affairs are providing the necessary support to this group of students.

4. Academic programme
The University of the Free State is committed to continue and complete the academic programme.  I want our students and their parents/guardians to rest assured that the university’s Teaching and Learning Management Group (TLMG) is working hard to develop alternative ways of presenting the learning and teaching programme.

The university’s online engagement with students will start on Monday 20 April 2020. Until then, the best possible support for lecturers and students will be created by adapting existing support and practices most suited to our new online environment.

Please look out for the information relating to the Keep Calm, Teach On and #UFSLearnOn campaigns managed on the university’s communication platforms by the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) in cooperation with the Department of Communication and Marketing.

5. Continuation of university operations
Within the context of this uncertain time, we should remain focused on the continuation of university operations. Therefore, the concept of working from home remains. The lockdown period is perceived as special leave, as it is deemed that staff members are in fact at work; therefore, application for leave does not have to be submitted.  Additional arrangements will be made with staff members providing essential and other designated critical services, which will be communicated by the relevant line managers.

6. Communication platforms
I encourage you to remain in contact with the university by regularly monitoring the communication platforms for important and/or critical information. You will find all the COVID-19 related information on this webpage. Other communication platforms for our staff during the lockdown include the UFS social media platforms, SMS, the KovsieApp, and the Newsflash.

It is important for staff to ensure that their cellphone numbers are updated in order to receive communication via the KovsieApp and SMS:

KovsieApp: www.ufs.ac.za/kovsieapp
SMS: www.ufs.ac.za/sms

As we realise that circumstances could change rapidly, the UFS Coronavirus (COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2) Task Team and the Special Executive Group will continue our frequent discussions to assess the global and national situation – during and after the lockdown.

I encourage you to remain calm, as this is a difficult and extraordinary time not only for our country, but for the entire world. It is a time for us to think differently about what we do and how we do it, and also a time to take a step back and #StayAtHome in the best interest of the many communities around us.

Thank you to each and every staff member for your dedication and commitment over the past few weeks. We will get through this national and global health crisis. 

Be safe, look after yourself, and take preventative steps to avoid contracting the virus during this period of national lockdown.

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