Government sends mask warning to South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has warned against complacency around the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, despite a recent move to repeal the country’s few remaining lockdown restrictions.

In a statement on Monday (11 July), Cabinet commended all people in South Africa who chose to vaccinate and observe all Covid-19 protocols that resulted in the country averting rising numbers of new cases during the fifth wave of the pandemic.

“However, we must not be complacent as Covid-19 is still in our midst. Although the country recently scrapped the compulsory wearing of masks in public, people with comorbidities and those who are ill are encouraged to continue wearing a mask. We must also continue to wash or sanitise our hands, and observe social distancing and proper ventilation.

“Vaccination remains the scientifically proven defence against Covid-19 and Cabinet encourages all unvaccinated people to vaccinate without delay and vaccinated people to get their booster shots at their nearest vaccination sites, for free.”

Private spaces and offices 

While the rules around masks have now been dropped, the government has cautioned against employers who ‘adopt a cavalier attitude towards health and safety in their workplaces’.

“Although there is no requirement in law for employers to impose the wearing of face masks in the workplace, nothing precludes employers from implementing policies that require employees to continue wearing them while at work,” said Sibusiso Dube, partner at law firm Bowmans.

“The setting of rules and standards for the workplace remains the prerogative of an employer and, provided that such rules are valid and reasonable, courts will not interfere.”

Dube noted that this is a well-established legal principle. Whether a rule is valid depends on if:

  • The employer had the authority to make the rule in terms of the employment contract;
  • The rule complies with applicable statutes or regulations; and
  • The rule is reasonably required for the efficient, orderly, and safe conduct of the employer’s business.

“If an employer is able to satisfy the requirements above, based on the prevailing circumstances at its workplace, then the rule will be found to be valid if challenged by an employee. Non-compliance with such a rule may attract sanctions.

“It will be interesting to see how things unfold in the workplace over the next few weeks as we take another step towards ‘normality’. However, one cannot discount the devastating effect that Covid-19 has had. How individuals approach life going forward in light of the repealed regulations will most likely depend on their personal experiences.”

While some may be comfortable walking around without wearing masks in the office or any public areas, others may still feel vulnerable, irrespective of the scientific reasoning behind the repeal of the regulations relating to mask-wearing, Dube said.

“What is clear, however, is that the law does not require any individual to wear a face mask in the workplace or otherwise.

“Employers are advised to notify their employees of the requirements for their workplaces, including that the decision to wear a mask or not is a decision that each employee can make for themselves, as soon as possible.”


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Government sends mask warning to South Africa