South Africa could introduce vaccine passports in early 2022: report

South Africa could introduce a new Covid-19 vaccine passport system at the start of 2022, with restrictions on accessing public services and places of employment.

BusinessDay reports that talks between the government, business and labour on introducing a form of Covid-19 vaccine passport system are at an advanced stage, citing insiders involved in the discussions.

While president Cyril Ramaphosa has indicated that government will consider vaccine mandates, this system would not compel South Africans to take vaccinations against their will.

Instead, a passport system would restrict access to specific events and areas. A proposal is expected to be published in the coming weeks for public comment.

In a national address on Sunday evening (28 November), Ramaphosa said that his 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.”

The introduction of vaccine mandates has received strong support from both the private sector and labour unions, with both groups warning that South Africa will need to increase its vaccination rate or face heavier lockdown restrictions.

Business for South Africa (B4SA) called 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 specific public spaces should be subject to vaccine mandates or only be open to vaccinated people. This includes:

  • Hospitals;
  • 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.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the country’s largest trade union federation, said that the economy and workers could not afford continued lockdowns. The Unemployment Insurance Fund cannot continue to bail out the economy.

It added that society needs to be ‘honest and realistic’ and accept that current measures alone are insufficient. “We now need collectively as a society to engage on requiring vaccinations to enter public spaces, malls, restaurants, events, sports etc.”

The trade federation said that South Africa is likely to be treated as a global health risk and face travel restrictions if it fails to reach a 90% vaccination level.

“Any restrictions going forward must be imposed on those who fail to vaccinate. Those who vaccinate must be allowed to move on with life. Incentives and rewards should be used to encourage everyone to vaccinate,” it said.

“Cosatu is ready to engage government on the modalities to ensure that everyone is vaccinated. Workers’ lives depend on it, and we cannot afford to let workers down.”

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South Africa could introduce vaccine passports in early 2022: report