The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is in discussions with mobile network operators regarding data partnerships. This is so that classes may continue online in the event that the university is closed for an extended period due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib said that he has personally spoken with Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko and that his staff have had discussions with Vodacom, MTN, and others.
Habib was speaking with eNCA regarding President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on 15 March regarding South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
When asked about a Wits student who recently tested positive for the virus, Habib said that they had already suspended contact classes.
The person who tested positive has been asked to self-quarantine for at least a week. The 350 students that the person was potentially in contact with have been asked to self-quarantine, Habib stated.
Habib said that the university has cancelled classes for Monday.
When asked about what the implications are for the academic year if classes could not resume due to the virus, Habib revealed the potential partnerships with Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C.
Habib also said other universities are in similar discussions with the network operators.
“We have been watching the rise of this pandemic around the world,” he said.
Wits has also been planning a move to online teaching and learning, should the need arise.
Habib noted that the university is currently in its final week of classes before the mid-semester break, giving it two weeks to prepare.
Regarding the potential closure of schools and the need for online teaching and learning at the school level, Habib offered a similar response.
“We have at least another two weeks to three weeks [before deciding how to act]. We have to determine what the scale of this pandemic is going to be before we determine appropriate actions for the country as a whole,” Habib said.
News of the universities preparing to temporarily move to online learning comes after President Ramaphosa announced several drastic restrictions to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and stated that the situation called for an extraordinary response.
Restrictions included travel bans on individuals from high-risk countries and the prohibition on gatherings of more than 100 people.
Ramaphosa added that international airports will have improved screening measures, and all businesses must improve their hygiene controls.
A tracking and monitoring system will also be implemented to ensure that those who have been infected with the coronavirus are monitored.