Business and civil society groups have warned that president Cyril Ramaphosa and his government will face significant backlash from the public if he reintroduces stricter lockdown restrictions this week in response to a new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
This comes after government officials and other political party members flouted lockdown regulations during municipal election campaign events less than a month ago, the Sunday Times reports.
Mosa Moshabela, acting deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Ramaphosa will struggle to convince South Africans to comply with lockdown rules after an election campaign that ignored them.
Instead, he and other leaders are calling for stricter measures around vaccination uptake, including making Covid-19 vaccines compulsory in South Africa.
Black Business Council chief executive Kganki Matabane also called for mandatory vaccines rather than stricter restrictions that would cripple the economy. His call was echoed by Restaurant Collective spokesperson Grace Harding, who said any form of lockdown will be like a ‘death sentence’.
Business4SA chair Martin Kingston said Ramaphosa should avoid the reintroduction of a stricter lockdown and instead take steps to raise vaccination rates.
“There are two areas that can fundamentally increase and improve the vaccination rate: restricted access to venues and vaccine mandates,” he said. The government should sanction or support both as a matter of extreme urgency, Kingston said.
“It doesn’t need to impose it itself, but obviously we would welcome it if it did, but we do believe they need to acknowledge the need now to aggressively drive the vaccination rate, which is the only way we are going to curb transmission.”
South African scientists this week identified the new variant, known as omicron, setting off alarm bells around the world.
The UK led nations in introducing travel bans on South Africa and its neighbours, posing a threat to the nation’s tourism industry, which accounts for 7% of economic output. The European Union, the US, and much of the world have followed.
Only about a third of South African adults are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The government could announce more stringent lockdown measures in the coming days to curb a resurgence of coronavirus infections and the spread of a new variant, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The National Coronavirus Command Council met Saturday to discuss possible measures while weighing the impact any moves will have on the economy, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.
Among the options being considered are ways to try and boost the nation’s vaccination rate, they said.
Tyrone Seale, the spokesman for President Cyril Ramaphosa, declined to comment beyond a statement issued on Friday in which the presidency said that the outcome of the NCCC meeting will help determine whether further consultations are required at the level of the President’s Coordinating Council.