Covid numbers at Eastern Cape universities spike

Students in self isolation at Walter Sisulu University say that they are locked in residences without being tested.

The surge in numbers of students testing positive is a cause for concern for universities in the Eastern Cape.

Some Walter Sisulu University (WSU) students in the Buffalo City Municipality (BCM) in the Eastern Cape have accused the institution of putting them at risk of infection by locking them up in their hostel without conducting any tests.

They believe that their chances of getting infected increase as their covid-19 status remains unknown. The university management has asked all students in residences to self-isolate from 26 October until 8 November.

“They [university management] take this as a light issue, but it is a hard-hitting matter to us. It is now as if they are deliberately exacerbating the risk of us to infect each other with the coronavirus because we have been obliged to lock ourselves up and there is too many of us inside there and yet none of us are aware about our health status.

“We will be finishing up a week without knowing who’s covid-19 positive because no coronavirus tests have been conducted yet in our residences,” said a third year male student from one of the WSU residences.

The number of covid-19 cases have surged at four of WSU’s residences; 25 students and two staff members tested positive over the weekend. The university subsequently suspended its contact classes and assessments.

Sixty students from University Fort Hare (UFH) tested positive recently.

Residents of East London blame the covid resurgence on the government’s lifting of the recent liquor sales ban.

 “I think they became very lenient by easing up the covid-19 regulations too early,” said Eunice du Plessis (54), a mother of three from Parkside, East London. She thinks that the consumption of alcohol is directly tied to the spread of the coronavirus as small-roomed shebeens and taverns become overcrowded.

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According to the municipality, fatalities have risen from 699 to 900 with Bhisho Hospital seeing a dramatic increase of covid-19 patients. Many of the new positive cases are from the two universities in the metropolis, allegedly caused by students’ attendance of packed public entertainment events, private house parties and liquor bingeing at taverns.

WSU spokesperson, Yonela Tukwayo, said 26 students and one staff member have tested covid-19 positive. “I can confirm that the first three students to test positive had attended a party by UFH students. One can never be absolutely certain whether the other students contracted the virus from the three students that attended the party, but is the suspicion at this point,” said Tukwayo.

The university’s management has decided to suspend all contact academic activity, including examinations, in an effort to restrict the movement of students and curb transmission.

In contrast to the initial statement by the institution that it would arrange for food deliveries with local business, Tukwayo said students have been allowed to purchase food for themselves.

 UFH stated that it currently has 36 students and staff who have recovered from the virus and 26 active cases with the last two reported on Wednesday.

Tandi Mapukata, UFH spokesperson, said they did not have confirmed statistics of students and workers they have tested. “The students who tested positive are from our East London campus and that impacted the Health Science, Management and Commerce and Law faculties,” said Mapukata.

The Fort Hare University has a university isolation site at its Alice campus. “We have also been granted use of a 40-bed facility at the Bhisho Hospital and we are also in the final stages of securing another site in East London,” she added. “Compliance with covid-19 health and safety protocol is non-negotiable”. 

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A tutor at an East London based tertiary institution also approved of the ban on the sale of liquor to curb the virus spread. “Things can turn better if the government could create permanent testing centres in all learning institutions and ban all liquor sales because it causes chaos everywhere,” she said.

Speaking on the Bhisho-based, SABC radio station TRU FM, the Eastern Cape Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba, criticised the manner in which local people have been flouting the covid-19 regulations, disregarding face mask wearing and gathering in shopping malls, in taverns – where they even share bottles! she exclaimed – as well as in entertainment events such as the recent DJ TR show in Mdantsane.

The Eastern Cape government has also warned of a return to a hard lockdown in Mandela Bay following the spike in coronavirus cases in the area.

The Eastern Cape Health Department spokesperson failed to respond to inquiries.

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