‘Gatherings are so vital to campus life!’: Universities rejoice as lockdown regulations scrapped

  • For the last two years, higher education institutions have had to resort to hybrid learning models because of Covid-19 regulations. 
  • With the repeal of the mask mandate and restrictions on gatherings, more students can return to campuses next semester. 
  • The University of the Free State is dropping the mask mandate but not its Covid-19 vaccine requirement. 

After two years of remote classes and half-filled campuses, universities can have their entire cohort of students back on campuses thanks to dropped Covid-19 regulations.

This week, the health department dropped the mask mandate and restrictions on gatherings – two regulations that significantly impacted the higher education sector.

Students are on holiday and institutions are busy changing their policies.

University of Pretoria spokesperson Rikus Delport said students would all be back at campus when the holiday ends.

READ | National arts festival makes joyous live return after Covid-19 restrictions scrapped

“Plans are already under way for students to return to in-person classes after the examinations and with the start of the second semester on 23 July.”

UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said the university was “no longer restricted by regulations about people in indoor public spaces, including public transport, such as the UCT shuttle”.

“We can resume working from campus; resume the public gatherings that are so vital to campus life; and stop wearing face masks in classes, lectures, labs and meetings. We acknowledge that some students or staff may still choose to wear a mask, and we encourage everyone to be respectful of the choices of others,” she said.

Phakeng added that many staff members have already returned to campus. Those who wish to continue to work remotely in combination with in-person and on-campus activities will have to engage with management.

“Now that the restrictions have changed, we will assess our current plans and protocols so that we can return to normal life as a campus community as soon as possible,” she said.

READ | Covid-19: So, what do we do with all of our masks now that they are no longer required?

“We are working with experts in the university to set up information sessions so that these can be answered. We will communicate these dates and times shortly.”

Wits University’s Shirona Patel added: “The new regulations also mean that we can have more students back on campus in the second semester and have more people attend graduations and lectures, which we welcome.”

The University of the Free State (UFS) indicated that it would not drop vaccination requirements.

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“The UFS Covid-19 Regulations and Required Vaccination Policy remains in place. Campus access control is still in place, and staff, students, and visitors are expected to upload a Covid-19 vaccination certificate or a negative PCR or antigen test result to obtain access to the campuses,” spokesperson Lacea Loader said.

Loader added that the university encouraged people to wear masks.

“The university management will decide in due course on the possible upliftment of restrictions on public gatherings.”

Most universities have dropped the mask requirement.

READ | Lockdown: You can now fly around SA without a mask

For Rhodes University, the dropping of the mask mandate drop comes as the National Arts Festival is celebrated.

University spokesperson Veliswa Mhlope said the university would follow national guidelines, but that staff and students must make decisions that are beneficial to their health.

“This temporary increase in population density can make us vulnerable to cluster outbreaks, which Makhanda’s medical facilities are not able to adequately cope with.

“If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please continue to do so. Please be safe and continue to follow non-pharmaceutical measures as much as possible, especially during the National Arts Festival period.”

She added that the institution encouraged social distancing in dining halls, computer rooms and other gathering places on the campus.