Students should evacuate Wits to stop spread of Covid-19, court rules

19 March 2020 - 14:15 By ERNEST MABUZA and Amina Deka Asma
The South Gauteng High Court on Thursday dismissed an application by two Wits law students to compel vice-chancellor Adam Habib to stop evacuating students from campus without testing them for the coronavirus.
The South Gauteng High Court on Thursday dismissed an application by two Wits law students to compel vice-chancellor Adam Habib to stop evacuating students from campus without testing them for the coronavirus.
Image: ALON SKUY

The high court in Johannesburg on Thursday dismissed an urgent application by two University of the Witwatersrand law students who wanted to stop the evacuation of students from the residences.

Lerato Moela and fellow student Matsobane Shaun Matlhwana launched their application after a decision on Monday by Wits to go on early recess and evacuate students by Thursday evening.

The decision was taken after one student tested positive for Covid-19.

The university then isolated 350 students, who may have had contact with the infected student, for testing. Since then, 320 have been cleared.

Moela and Matlhwana initially asked the court for vice-chancellor Adam Habib and dean of students Jerome September to refrain from evacuating students without satisfying themselves that students have been tested for the coronavirus before going home.

The two students feared that if they returned home — and if they were infected with Covid-19 — they would infect others.

During their application, which was heard on Wednesday, the students abandoned the relief sought and asked for an order that would allow them to self-isolate in campus residences.

In her judgment on Thursday, judge Sharise Weiner said she would deal with the application as originally sought by the two students.

She said the university obtained expert advice on how best to limit the spread of Covid-19. One of the steps was to institute social distancing, which could be done by closing residences to limit the spread.

Weiner said the students feared that they might infect others outside the institution if evacuated, and the university had advised them to undergo self-isolation themselves.

“Everybody in the world, in fact, is on the same page as the applicants. We have been in contact with other people, who may or may not have Covid-19,” said Weiner.

She said the institution said testing all students at residences was not feasible as there were 6,000 students in its residences. The institution said only one medical student tested positive for Covid-19 and her campus was 2km from the main campus.

“Neither of the applicants have alleged they have symptoms or they have had contact with the student who tested positive,” she said.

The judge said the relief the two students now sought — to remain in self-quarantine on campus — is logistically impossible as staff at residences will not be working during the recess.

In dismissing the application, Weiner implored the students to follow the protocols set down by the president and health professionals on how to curb the spread of coronavirus, including social distancing.

Weiner said though the students did not get the relief they sought, they should not be saddled with costs.

Speaking after the judgment, Moela, who argued on his behalf and that of Matlhwana, said they would respect the court's decision, adding that they were happy with the costs order.


X