Making vaccination compulsory to enter workplaces and certain public spaces seems a certainty if the statements from the government, business and labour this week are anything to go by.
In a televised address to the nation on 28 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government has been engaging with social partners and other stakeholders on introducing measures that will make vaccination a condition for access to places of work and to public events, transport and establishments.
He said there was “broad agreement” at Nedlac on the need for such measures.
The government has appointed a task team that will undertake “broad consultations” on making vaccination mandatory for “specific activities and locations”.
The team will report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccination, which will make recommendations to Cabinet on a “fair and sustainable” approach to vaccine mandates, Ramaphosa said.
The Institute of Risk Management South Africa (Irmsa) is one of the organisations that welcomed the appointment of the task team.
Irmsa chief executive Pat Semenya said the organisation acknowledged that mandatory vaccinations can be controversial and even divisive. However, any recommendations made by the task team should be carefully considered. “It is vital that its work is done unhampered and speedily.”
Irmsa also supported Ramaphosa’s call for South Africans to be vaccinated.
In his address, the president said 41% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine dose, and 35.6% of adult South Africans were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
He said 57% of people aged 60 or above were fully vaccinated, and 53% of people aged between 50 and 60 were fully vaccinated.
‘Ban unvaccinated from certain public spaces’
Business for South Africa (B4SA) said this week that unvaccinated individuals should be prevented from entering certain public indoor areas and called for the compulsory vaccination of employees.
“We need to rapidly move to a situation where only vaccinated individuals should be allowed to travel in buses, taxis and airplanes, or to eat and drink in indoor establishments, such as restaurants and taverns. This is in line with global restrictions and based on the science regarding airborne disease. Ventilation and masks remain important, but we now need to look at enforcing a further layer of protection,” said B4SA chairperson Martin Kingston.
B4SA said the obligation of ensuring a safe working environment for employees and customers included, in many instances, restricting access to vaccinated individuals and implementing vaccine mandates “wherever possible”.
Business Leadership SA chief executive Busi Mavuso said in her weekly newsletter that she supported the introduction of vaccine mandates by employers, “both to keep those who are vaccinated safe while at work and to increase pressure on others to get vaccinated”.
Mavuso said vaccine mandates should also be imposed on “key transmission points, including public transport and large-scale events”.
Hard and soft mandates at UWC
Meanwhile, the University of the Western Cape said that, from the start of the 2022 academic year, all staff and students will have to be vaccinated to enter the campus or attend university events.
In terms of its general, or “soft”, mandate, those who are not vaccinated will be permitted to register for their degree or module but may not enter the campus or attend university events. “This rule will also be strictly applied to the placement of students at all UWC residences.”
However, the “soft” mandate will not apply to students and staff in certain faculties – for example, the Faculty of Dentistry – and programmes, such as nursing and pharmacy. In these cases, the “hard” mandate will apply: students will have to be vaccinated in order to register at UWC.
Online learning and teaching will continue in most faculties in 2022.
Students, staff, service providers and visitors may apply for an exemption from the policy based on verifiable medical, constitutional or religious grounds.
Not all unions on board
Cosatu also welcomed the appointment of the task team, saying South Africans needed to engage on requiring vaccinations to enter public spaces.
The labour federation said it has received “many complaints” from vaccinated members who fear for their safety as some of their colleagues are not vaccinated.
It said vaccines are central to ensuring that the right to life is protected, and people who are not vaccinated pose a serious risk to others, including those who have been vaccinated.
“Individual choice and minority rights cannot be at the expense of majority rights, let alone the right to life.”
However, not all trade unions are on board with mandatory vaccination.
The Public Servants Association, which represents more than 235 000 civil servants, including teachers and health workers, said vaccination should be voluntary. “Many people are still afraid on the effects of the vaccine and making vaccination mandatory will add to this anxiety.”
The Southern African Policing Union and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union are also opposed to making vaccination mandatory.
94% of Discovery employees vaccinated
Meanwhile, Discovery said that, by 26 November, 94% (9 897) of its employees have been vaccinated since it announced on 3 September that vaccination would be mandatory for its South Africa-based employees from 1 January 2022.
“At present, 583 employees are not vaccinated. Within this group, approximately 240 employees plan to vaccinate prior to the end of the year, and approximately 330 members of staff have lodged written objections to the mandatory vaccination policy,” Discovery Group chief executive Adrian Gore said.
Discovery said staff vaccination was projected to exceed 97% before the peak of a predicted fourth wave in early 2022. This is likely if 40% of employees who have lodged objections to vaccination decide to be vaccinated and if 63% of those who have said they plan to be vaccinated follow through on their undertaking.