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SA must urgently accelerate its Covid-19 vaccination rate with compulsory workplace jabs and restricted access to public places as it enters its fourth wave of infections, Business for SA (B4SA) said on Monday.
While case numbers and hospital admissions are low at present, they are rising at an exponential rate in Gauteng, where scientists last week identified a new variant, dubbed Omicron. The emergence of Omicron has coincided with a sharp rise in reported cases and hospital admissions in the province in the past fortnight and the national test positivity rate has almost tripled to 9.8% in the space of a week.
“Science tells us the best weapon we have against this virus is to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” said Cas Coovadia, Business Unity SA CEO and co-convener of B4SA.
Warning that the government has “no more fuel in the tank” to support struggling enterprises if lockdown restrictions are tightened in response to surging cases, B4SA chair Martin Kingston said higher vaccination coverage is essential for reducing the impact of the pandemic.
Emergency meetings are planned this week at Nedlac to discuss the details of how to step up mandatory workplace vaccination and restrict access to public places such as religious institutions and public transport only to people who have been immunised, he said.
Slightly more than a third (36%) of adults and 25% of the total population are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and demand for shots has flagged in recent weeks.
The current vaccination rate is totally inadequate, said Kingston. “It adds fuel to the fire, both literally and metaphorically, in terms of a fourth wave.”
Omicron has been categorised as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) because it has dozens of mutations, some of which have been associated with increased transmissibility and reduced vaccine efficacy in earlier strains.
SA’s announcement last week of the detection of the variant triggered global panic, prompting governments to impose travel restrictions on SA and other Southern African nations, and sending travel, tourism and leisure stocks tumbling.
Kingston said the travel bans are unscientific and untenable. “We heard that there have been wholesale cancellations and it is likely to continue while they are in place. We are very concerned that there is no fiscal capacity to provide additional relief, and the tourism, hospitality and leisure industry will have to rely on domestic consumers,” he said.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.