Solidarity considers legal action over extended Covid-19 regulations
Hospitality industry welcomes easing of restrictions for family travellers, but urges government to lift restrictions on event gathering sizes
Trade union Solidarity is considering legal action against government’s extended Covid-19 regulations which were published in the Government Gazette by health minister Joe Phaahla, calling them unlawful and irrational.
Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann said a legal letter had been issued to Phaahla in which the minister is requested to disclose how the decision on the regulations was reached.
“The Department of Health’s dragging its heels in publishing the regulations led to the absurd situation where the public did not know by 11pm Wednesday night what would hit them the next morning. This is totally unacceptable and has taken the country back to family meetings and the immediate effect of lockdowns,” he said.
“That the government admits in the Government Gazette that it needed more time to consider all the input from the public, but is nonetheless gazetting the regulations, is an indication the public comment process is regarded as a mere inconvenience by a government that would rather govern by dictate.
“Public input is not just for the semblance of participation but must be considered. Government’s actions made a mockery of the public participation process,” he said.
Solidarity’s legal team is considering legal steps to challenge the regulations.
“The most draconic and worrying of the new regulations is that the minister of health can arbitrarily decide to enact or withdraw them. This means the minister can put the entire country into lockdown with no prior notice and no limits to this power.
“The huge uncertainty this creates in several sectors of the economy will have major consequences if the regulations remain as is,” Hermann said.
On Wednesday, the health department extended the deadline for public comment by three months.
The regulations include:
- A person must, when entering and inside an indoor public place, wear a face mask. No person may use any form of public transport unless wearing a face mask.
- Gatherings are defined as a planned assembly or meeting at a particular venue involving more than 100 people.
- For any indoor and outdoor gatherings, a maximum of 50% of the venue capacity may be occupied provided every attendee is vaccinated against Covid-19 and produces a valid vaccination certificate. Alternatively, attendees must produce a valid negative Covid-19 test result not older than 72-hours before the date of the gathering.
- If complying with this indoor gathering requirement is not possible, attendance will be limited to 1,000 people or 50% of the capacity, whichever is smaller, while the attendance at an outdoor gathering will be limited to 2,000 people or 50% of the capacity, whichever is smaller.
- All international travellers arriving at SA ports of entry must be vaccinated against Covid-19 and produce a valid vaccination certificate, or produce a valid negative PCR Covid-19 test result not older than 72-hours before the date of departure.
- Alternatively, travellers have another option of producing a valid negative antigen Covid-19 test result performed by a medical practitioner, registered public health authority or accredited/approved laboratory obtained not more than 48-hours before the date of departure.
- In a case where an international traveller is unable to produce a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test result older than 72-hours, or a negative antigen test result obtained at least 48-hours before departure, he/she must undergo antigen testing at the port of entry.
- If the traveller is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19, they must self-isolate for 10 days after admission into SA. The vaccination or testing requirement is not applicable to travellers under the age of 12 years and daily commuters from neighbouring countries.
The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) welcomed that families with children between the ages of five and 12 years no longer need to provide a negative PCR test when returning to SA.
“Family travel is a significant segment for SA’s travel industry and without the option to vaccinate under 12-year-olds, this has meant families travelling overseas have been forced to bear additional expenses and inconvenience, deterring them from travelling to destinations that do not require a negative PCR test for under 12-year-olds for entry,” said Asata CEO Otto de Vries.
“For travel to happen we need consistency and certainty. Consequently, we look forward to the finalisation of regulations in the next few months.”
Family Collection founder and CEO Robert More echoed De Vries’ sentiments.
“We have seen the pent-up demand from large family groups wanting to travel to SA grow recently, and it has been a barrier to inbound travel for families, while competitors like East Africa have made it much easier and more accessible to travel to the destination. We are confident with this change we will be in a position to inspire more families to visit our shores,” he said.
Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) chairperson Rosemary Anderson said while the association was heartened that the health department heard the industry’s calls, it questioned the continuing requirement of reduced gathering sizes.
She said the requirement was not based on science. “It would mean many of the international events we would host in SA will simply not be viable, which will result in further job losses. For any medium- to long-term planning to take place and events business to be secured, we need certainty. Waiting another three months means we will be losing many event opportunities.
“Certainty is the one ingredient essential for our industry to survive and thrive. We urge government to lift the restrictions on event gathering sizes sooner rather than later.
“We could be positioning SA as a leading meetings, incentives, conferencing and events destination which would contribute towards alleviating the massive unemployment rate, particularly the youth,” Anderson said.
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