SA restaurants, taverns hammered by lockdown are pro-vaccines but can’t force patrons to show a ‘health pass’

21 October 2021 - 13:05
The Mozambik restaurant in Menlyn Mall, Pretoria.
The Mozambik restaurant in Menlyn Mall, Pretoria.
Image: Angelo Zachariades

Should restaurant and tavern patrons produce a Covid-19 vaccination certificate before they are allowed inside?

And would diners feel “safer” if staff at these establishments were all vaccinated?

It’s divisive topic at home and in parts of Europe where a “health pass” is required to dine out.

Already hammered by successive lockdowns and restrictions, the only way owners and restaurant workers can survive is to avoid a fourth wave, and part of the solution lies in reducing hospital numbers through higher vaccination levels.

Despite this, there is still a large section of the population fiercely opposed to vaccines.

Angelo Zachariades, the owner of Mozambik in Menlyn Mall, Pretoria, took flak this week for tweeting that his staff were fully vaccinated. 

“I am very, very proud to say that as of today every single employee at our restaurant is fully vaccinated and has their vaccine certificates downloaded on their phones. We didn’t have a single issue and the whole process was approached in a mature, rational manner by all,” he tweeted on October 15.

Though there was praise from some, the anti-vax movement quickly seized upon his tweet and went on the offensive, with many saying they would boycott the restaurant.

Mozambik franchise owner Brett Michielin said it was up to every owner to decide on their own rules. He said some restaurant owners were contemplating having all their staff vaccinated and others were encouraging staff vaccinations.

“I’m vaccinated. I believe in it ... As far as I’m concerned, everyone must do what they have to do [to avoid another lockdown].”

Patrons in France are now compelled by law to produce a digital “health pass” — or certificate indicating they have been vaccinated —  to dine indoors and outdoors at a restaurant. Establishments that fail to check health passes face fines starting at R25,000 up to R151,000 and a year in prison for a third offence, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Patrons without an equivalent “green pass” cannot dine indoors in Italy.

Health minister Joe Phaahla, in response to a recent parliamentary question posed by the IFP, said the government did not intend to make Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory by law. But many private companies have been pushing for employees to be vaccinated.

Restaurant and tavern owners in SA generally support the idea of vaccinations for their members and patrons, in light of many establishments being forced to close shop due to the crippling financial impact of the lockdown regulations.

SA Liquor Traders Association (Salta) president Philemon Mojela was fresh from a meeting on Wednesday afternoon where they discussed getting as many traders to vaccinate as possible.

Mojela said he was proud that about 80% to 90% of the 2,000 Gauteng members had been vaccinated. 

We are encouraging [tavern] owners to vaccinate. Our message was: ‘Please encourage your customers to do the same.’ We can’t wait for government to come force us to vaccinate ... Our business doesn’t go well during Covid-19. Once 90% of our customers are vaccinated then we can go back to normal.

“Our income is down because we’ve had to close because of the virus. We do tell our customers to wear a mask when they come to the counter, or come with proof of vaccination.”

He said the organisation was doing its best to encourage customers and added, “We cannot force them to vaccinate but we can give them reasons to do so.”

“Vaccinations are a good thing, otherwise the country will fall behind. Look how we were red-listed in Europe recently. So let’s not wait to be told by government, let’s just vaccinate.”

Salta members hold branch meetings every fortnight to discuss issues in the industry, he said. 

Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa) head Wendy Alberts said restaurants would not discriminate by asking their clients to provide proof of vaccinations because the industry had been hammered by the lockdown and restaurateurs simply could not afford to turn patrons away.

“Government has refused to engage with the industry over decisions on lockdown. They have not acknowledged the hard work this industry has done to follow all guidelines despite the negative impact Covid-19 has had on owners. And government has not acknowledged that the business employs many staff members — some of whom are otherwise unemployable as they cannot afford further education. 

“From the onset government has dictated to the industry and many restaurateurs still face constant uncertainty [over job security].”

She said Rasa had engaged in a recent roadshow and most staff and restaurateurs were pro-vaccine because they did not want another lockdown.

“Despite the industry driving positive messaging on the vaccine we have not had any support from government.

“But we are very grateful to South Africans who have kept us afloat.

“As an industry we support the vaccine process and we are encouraging staff to vaccinate, but government needs to incentivise the industry too. If we are 90% vaccinated then we should be able to take in more patrons. Getting a voucher to go shopping won’t save this industry. We want to keep restaurant doors open.”

She said the government needed to acknowledge the service and training of youth within the industry. She said despite this they were the first to suffer the consequences of lockdown.