By Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya
Images obtained from Unsplash
With almost two years since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic and eight months of mandatory vaccination, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) released a statement about the easing of mandatory COVID-19 measures.
“In consultation with and the approval of the UJ Council, we will be relaxing some of our Mandatory Vaccination Policy stipulations and Implementation Protocol,” read the statement.
The new measures – which include: doing away with the wearing of masks indoors and outdoors, the presentation of a proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test when entering University premises – have been effective since 24th June. In addition, there will be an increase in occupancy at some of UJ’s facilities.
Those measures follow the repeal of regulations on 23 June by Health Minister Joe Phaahla, concerning the mandatory wearing of masks, limited number of attendees at private/public gatherings and checks related to cross-border travels, among others.
The responses from current and former students, however, stand at contradictory angles. There seems to be discontent as some are displeased with the changes.
Asanda Deneo Dahile, a third-year Bachelor of Accounting student and Deputy Chairperson of the Sophiatown Student Residence’s House Committee, acknowledges that the suspension of masks provides relief to a certain extent as this shows that the fight against COVID-19 is soon coming to an end.
She added: “It is quite alarming how abruptly this suspension took place … Although there are signs that there is a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, I think more time should have been allocated to observe how long the cases will be at a low rate, and the easing of restrictions should have been gradually introduced while monitoring the cases.”
Dahile said that the increase in the capacity is alarming and suggests that perhaps one restriction should have been lifted and claims that the suspension of both restrictions might be the cause of COVID-19 cases skyrocketing.
Former UJ student and BCom Accounting graduate Ayandisa Mdukulwana stands in agreement with eased mandatory vaccination measures, claiming that the new measures are a ‘great move’.
“UJ was very brutal and unfair about the whole mandatory vaccination,” said Mdukulwana. “They literally forced students and staff to take the vaccine, even though the exemption policy was not fair. Now after almost everyone has taken the vaccine, they are dropping the mandatory policy.”
“It does not serve any purpose because people’s rights have been overridden already. They cannot be unvaccinated. The only people who will benefit are those who will be going to University next year,” she continued.
The University claims in a recent statement that the decision to ease mandatory vaccination measures was based on its COVID-19 risk profile, which was influenced by high vaccination rates among students and staff members, low infections and COVID-related deaths. It is urging students and staff to continue taking precautionary measures to minimise the spread of the virus.
“Should there be an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections and in the resultant risk to our staff, students and third parties, the University may be required to reinstate the suspended measures,” read the statement.
Rivoningo Khosa, a third-year Bachelor of Accounting student, says the suspension of regulations creates mixed emotions, claiming that not wearing a mask indoors really feels like things are back to normal because the wearing of masks and social distancing have become the order of the day.
She said that the increase in occupancy, especially in lecture halls, is one she is not excited about as the limited number of people in the lecture hall allowed her to engage more with the lectures and this led to better assistance for students.