University of Free State implements measures to reduce coronavirus risk to staff

Bloemfontein – The executive management of the University of the Free State (UFS) has welcomed the announcement by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande that all post-school training institutions will have an early recess.

On Tuesday, Nzimande issued a directive that universities should minimise the risk of staff contracting Covid-19 by taking a recess starting today.

Rector and vice-chancellor Francis Petersen said the announcement is in line with the university’s decision on Monday to suspend the academic programme from Tuesday and to resume on April 14. 

"It is important for us all to know that this is not business as usual, and that different thinking is required," said Petersen. 

"Responsible citizenship is one of the crucial elements the world has increasingly been experiencing for the past few weeks. 

"This is why we must act out our responsibility towards one another by focusing on ways in which social distancing can be achieved – especially during this low-risk period that South Africa is still experiencing. 

"This is one of the reasons that informed the university’s decision on 16 March to suspend the academic programme and also for students to vacate the residences by 20 March. 

"The health and well-being of our staff members are equally important. The university’s Employee Task Team that was established on 16 March analysed options for the continuation of university operations during the recess period. 

"These options were submitted to the executive management, discussed with the chairperson of the UFS council and approved on 18 March.

"Staff members who have children at school and pre-school may work from home on 19 and 20 March. For the period 23 March to 13 April, the number of staff members present on all three campuses will be reduced to a minimum and staff members may be allowed to work from home where practically possible. 

"Arrangements have been made to accommodate those staff members who are performing services which cannot be done from home (such as cleaning, gardening, maintenance, sports, etc) in a flexible and reasonable way. 

"Similar arrangements will be made with office-based support services staff, prioritising institutional needs and based on humane and personal circumstances. 

"Academic staff have been requested to ensure that the online learning materials are finalised and made available for the online learning platform.

"The decision for employees to work from home is based on the premise that all employees are deemed to be at work from 23 March to 13 April. 

"This requires staff members to be available and contactable by line managers at all times during the university’s normal working hours. 

"I am comfortable that these measures will alleviate the concerns from our staff regarding the spreading of COVID-19 and the risk to themselves without compromising university operations."

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