Following the emergence of the new Omicron variant and the pending fourth wave, Business for South Africa (B4SA) is calling for a rapid move to restrict access to public indoor areas that are not required for emergency use.
B4SA and a group of 22 scientists and experts said that certain public spaces should be subject to vaccine mandates or only be open to people who are vaccinated. This includes:
- Grocery stores;
- Certain government services;
- Large-scale events;
- Travel in buses, taxis and aeroplanes;
- Indoor establishments such as restaurants and taverns; and
- Places of worship.
The group said that these measures are necessary to save lives and avoid severe lockdown restrictions over the upcoming holiday period.
“This is in line with global restrictions and based on the science regarding airborne diseases. Ventilation and masks remain important, but we now need to look at enforcing a further layer of protection.”
B4SA is also calling on all employers to ensure safe working environments for their employees and customers, which in many instances should include restricting access to vaccinated individuals and implementing vaccine mandates wherever possible. This is per their responsibilities outlined in the Department of Labour’s OHS Directive, issued in July.
The group is also calling for lower limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings to be reintroduced.
“The global scientific community is in the process of determining the transmissibility of the new variant, and scientists’ initial view is that our current vaccines remain highly effective against death and severe illness,” said Kingston.
In short, vaccinations remain our best weapon against Covid-19, he said.
“The country has sufficient vaccines available, and it is imperative that as many people as possible get vaccinated as soon as possible so as to not overburden the health system and to minimise lockdown restrictions.
“South Africa cannot afford more personal or economic pain. We have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our communities and to safeguard both lives and livelihoods.”
A group of epidemiologists, vaccine experts and other scientists have also published a list of recommendations around mandatory vaccinations in South Africa.
In a column on the Daily Maverick, the group said that while a surge in Covid-19 cases is likely over the December holiday period, it was possible to navigate the coming weeks through a series of intelligent interventions rather than a total lockdown.
Some of the key proposals include:
- No more restrictions, except on indoor gatherings – At best, lockdowns may have somewhat delayed infections in the last three waves. Still, an estimated 60% to 80% of South Africans have been infected at the expense of substantial social and economic suffering.
- No more travel bans – This virus spreads very easily, and travel bans between provinces and countries clearly did not work with the previous lockdowns, as the virus hopped quickly from one area to the next.
- Prepare health facilities – The scientists said that this is critical and that government needs to do it in deed, not just in word.
- Booster shot – Get an urgent second vaccine to all healthcare workers and others who were given a single J&J jab.
- Mandatory vaccines – Enforce vaccine passports for entry into public spaces, including places of worship, taxis and restaurants.
- Aggressively improve access to vaccination – Make getting a vaccine very easy by using pop-ups in areas such as taxi ranks, malls, grants queues and drive-throughs.
President Cyril Ramaphosa says that South Africa will look at mandatory vaccinations for specific activities to boost vaccination rates.
In a national address on Sunday evening (28 November), Ramaphosa said the government has set up a task team to undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.
“The task team will report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccination chaired by the deputy president, which will make recommendations to Cabinet on a fair and sustainable approach to vaccine mandates.”
Ramaphosa said that introducing such measures is a complex and challenging issue but is necessary to combat the spread of the virus.
“If we do not address this seriously and as a matter of urgency, we will continue to be vulnerable to new variants and will continue to suffer new waves of infection.”