CAPE TOWN - Discussions on introducing measures that make vaccination a condition for access to workplaces, public events, public transport and public establishments are underway, with President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing a task team responsible for broad consultations on the issue.
“This includes discussions that have been taking place at NEDLAC between government, labour, business and the community constituency, where there is broad agreement on the need for such measures.The task team will report to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccination chaired by the Deputy President, which will make recommendations to Cabinet on a fair and sustainable approach to vaccine mandates.
“We realise that the introduction of such measures is a difficult and complex issue, but if we do not address this seriously and as a matter of urgency, we will continue to be vulnerable to new variants and will continue to suffer new waves of infection,” he said in his address to the nation last night.
Ramaphosa’s highly anticipated address came after the detection of Omicron, a new variant that has led to countries like the United Kingdom, United States, European Union members, Canada and Turkey banning South African travel.
Speculation was rife ahead of Ramaphosa’s address with fears that he may announce tighter restrictions, including a ban on the sale of alcohol.
Instead, he said the country would remain on Alert Level one, adding that the government had started the process of amending the health regulations to review the use of the Disaster Management Act to manage the response to the pandemic, with a view to ultimately lifting the National State of Disaster.
“A decision was taken that the country should remain on Coronavirus Alert Level 1 for now and that the National State of Disaster should remain in place. In taking the decision not to impose further restrictions at this stage, we considered the fact that when we encountered previous waves of infection, vaccines were not widely available and far fewer people were vaccinated,” he said.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported 2 858 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 2 961 406. This increase represented a 9.8% positivity rate.
A further six Covid-19-related deaths have been reported, bringing total fatalities to 89,797 to date.
Speaking on the fresh travel bans, Ramaphosa said: “We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of Southern African countries following the identification of the Omicron variant. This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of G20 countries in Rome last month. They pledged at that meeting to restart international travel in a safe and orderly manner, consistent with the work of relevant international organisations such as the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Maritime Organization and the OECD.
“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries.”
After convening an urgent meeting with tourism private- sector stakeholders to address mitigating the effects of the travel bans, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said: “Today’s engagement was the first of many we will be holding as a public-private tourism sector War Room to deal with crises such as that experienced this week, as well as legacy issues that hinder the extent to which tourism can contribute to South Africa’s economy. Our War Room will be meeting on a regular basis to roll out and follow up on practical actions adopted by industry stakeholders to deal pro-actively with the obstacles and crises that our tourism and hospitality sector faces; with the immediate priority to ensure that we preserve domestic tourism over this festive season to secure the livelihoods our sector supports.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday urged countries to follow science and the International Health Regulations (2005) as a growing number of them have rushed to impose flight bans on southern African nations.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said: “The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended. WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of Covid-19.
“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. Covid-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions,” said Dr Moeti.