Virus-battered SA 'readies mandatory vaccine policy'
SA, which is contending with a massive upsurge in Covid-19 infections following the onset of the Omicron variant, is readying a mandatory vaccine policy and is set to implement it early next year, a senior labour union official said.
Broad agreement has been reached on the policy in the National Economic Development and Labor Council (Nedlac), although some details have yet to be ironed out.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), which initially opposed forcing people to get vaccinated, has joined business groups in backing the move.
“Getting to a 90% vaccination rate is in the interest of our members,” Cosatu parliamentary co-ordinator Matthew Parks said in an interview. “We can save their lives and their jobs. What we are not going to do is support further lockdowns when we have lost two million jobs.”
SA has detected almost three million coronavirus infections and nearly 90,000 of those diagnosed with the disease have died - although excess deaths data indicates the actual toll is about three times higher. New cases have soared since last week as Omicron took hold in the country.
About 36% of the adult population has been vaccinated and despite an ample supply of shots being available, hesitancy to take them remains high. On November 26, President Cyril Ramaphosa said government was considering introducing mandatory vaccinations for some activities and locations, and said a task team is looking into the matter.
“If a person chooses not to be vaccinated, they cannot also choose to engage in social activities that place others at risk,” minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said in a column in Business Day newspaper on Wednesday.
“We are at a crucial turning point in our response to the pandemic. We cannot afford further restrictions on economic activity or the uncertain pendulum swings that have characterised lockdowns in the past.”
Discovery Ltd, owner of SA’s largest health-insurance administrator, and other firms have already made it compulsory for their workers to vaccinate and seen uptake of the shots surge as a result.
While Cosatu’s affiliates were split over whether to compel workers to vaccinate, its leadership decided that the pros outweigh the cons. The Public Servants Association and three other unions opposed mandatory vaccinations.
Parks warned there was a risk of unrest should government force people to vaccinate. France, the Netherlands and several other nations who have sought to introduce mandatory vaccines have been rocked by violent protests.
“We have raised it with government that when it comes into effect they will need to make sure the police are on alert, we don’t need anyone misbehaving. People can protest, but we can’t tolerate burning of restaurants and schools and so on,” he said.
Rioting engulfed parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in July, triggered by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma after his conviction on contempt of court charges. The violence claimed 354 lives and saw thousands of businesses looted and destroyed.
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