Government needs to shift Covid rules in South Africa: CEO

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive Busi Mavuso says the government needs a ‘light-touch approach’ that protects people’s health with minimal disruption to business activities as the country’s fifth Covid wave gains momentum.

“Government has gazetted legislation to enable it to impose many of the Covid-19 restrictions automatically and indefinitely, without the need of a ministerial decree or a state of disaster. This extends to many other conditions, not just Covid-19. Such powers can, of course, be abused – we intend to be vigilant in ensuring they are used appropriately.”

Mavuso added that regulation has “clearly gone wrong in the past”, citing the government’s decision to ban the sale of tobacco products at the start of the Covid pandemic, which allowed the illicit tobacco industry to flourish and resulted in R5.8 billion in tax revenue being lost to the fiscus.

“Businesses are having to adapt, and many are sharpening up their policies on employee vaccinations. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, ruled in favour of employers when employees objected to being vaccinated in numerous cases,” she said.

“The legal processes have established that employees must be vaccinated or need a recent test to prove they are not infected. These tests would need to be produced every two weeks. However, employers also have the right to dismiss employees who refuse to be vaccinated.”

“The responsibility of employers is clear: they have to protect the health and safety of their employees.”

Government shift is also coming – at a slower pace 

Mavuso noted that the government is gradually moving in the same direction as the private sector, but more needs to be done to reopen the country fully.

“Large scale gatherings, like stadium sports events, can be held up to 50% of capacity provided attendees produce a vaccine certificate or a negative PCR test result on admittance. Otherwise, gatherings cannot be of more than 1,000 indoors and 2,000 outdoors, with full social distancing and masking.

“I would like to see this principle extended – as we now see in many places in the world, all activities, including places of work, should be able to operate normally, providing those present can produce a vaccine certificate or negative test.”

She added that the focus should now be fully on vaccinating the population, which is still the best way to combat this virus.

“The evidence is clear that it reduces, though does not eliminate, the likelihood of being infected and infecting others. It dramatically reduces the severity of the illness, easing pressure on our health care systems.

“Trying to accelerate vaccinations has proven difficult largely because of the numerous misconceptions – many of them beyond the absurd – that flourish on social media. It terrifies me that South Africans are so quick to believe some of the nonsense that’s out there.

“We need targetted messaging, tailored to suit different segments of the population, that directly dispels the myths and educates people about the science.”

Read: What to expect from the next Covid wave and lockdown restrictions: Absa

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Government needs to shift Covid rules in South Africa: CEO