SA mulls compulsory Covid-19 jabs


THE South African government has stood firm, kept the country at the lowest alert level and pointed to vaccination as an answer to the new Covid-19 variant – Omicron – as well as the impending 4th wave.

The government also castigated as unjustified the decision by many countries of the world to shut their borders after SA scientists disclosed the discovery of the new variant, which has also been found in people who never set foot in southern Africa.

In a special address to the nation, SA president Cyril Ramaphosa the progress made in vaccinations – 25-million South Africans have received the jab – made it possible for the government to keep the country at adjusted level one even after the discovery of Omnicron and in the face of the 4th wave, which is expected to hit the country in the next few weeks.

One of Ramaphosa’s major announcements was that the SA government was considering making vaccination mandatory in certain locations and for some activities, without giving details.

The SA President called on countries that have closed their borders to SA and other southern African countries to lift the bans immediately.

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.

“The G20 Rome Declaration noted the plight of the tourism sector in developing countries, and made a commitment to support a “rapid, resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery of the tourism sector”. 

“Countries that have imposed travel restrictions on our country and some of our Southern African sister countries include the United Kingdom, United States, European Union members, Canada, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Seychelles, Brazil and Guatemala, among others.

“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our Southern African sister countries to urgently reverse their decisions and lift the ban they have imposed before any further damage is done to our economies and to the livelihoods of our people.

“There is no scientific justification for keeping these restrictions in place. We know that this virus, like all viruses, does mutate and form new variants. We also know that the likelihood of the emergence of more severe forms of variants is increased significantly where people are not vaccinated. That is why we have joined many countries, organisations and people around the world who have been fighting for equal access to vaccines for everyone. We have said that vaccine inequality not only costs lives and livelihoods in those countries that are denied access but that it also threatens global efforts to overcome the pandemic.

“The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue. Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone will be at risk.

Until everyone is vaccinated, we should expect that more variants will emerge. These variants may well be more transmissible, may cause more severe disease, and may be more resistant to the current vaccines. Instead of prohibiting travel, the rich countries of the world need to support the efforts of developing economies to access and to manufacture enough vaccine doses for their people without delay.”

Ramaphosa dedicated the bulk of his speech to the effectiveness of vaccines, pleading with unvaccinated South Africans to go and get the jab.

“Since the first COVID-19 vaccines became available late last year, we have seen how vaccines have dramatically reduced severe illness, hospitalisation and death in South Africa and across the world. Vaccines do work. Vaccines are saving lives.

“Since we launched our public vaccination programme in May 2021, over 25- million vaccine doses have been administered in South Africa.  This is a remarkable achievement. It is by far the most extensive health intervention undertaken in this country in such a short period of time.

“Forty-one percent of the adult population have received at least one vaccine dose, and 35.6 percent of adult South Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Significantly, 57 percent of people 60 years old and above are fully vaccinated, and 53 per cent of people aged between 50 and 60 are fully vaccinated.

“While this is welcome progress, it is not enough to enable us to reduce infections, prevent illness and death and restore our economy. Vaccination against COVID-19 is free.  Tonight, I would like to call on every person who has not been vaccinated to go to their nearest vaccination station without delay. If there is someone in your family or among your friends who is not vaccinated, I call on you to encourage them to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is by far the most important way to protect yourself and those around you against the Omicron variant, to reduce the impact of the fourth wave and to help restore the social freedoms we all yearn for. Vaccination is also vital to the return of our economy to full operation, to the resumption of travel and to the recovery of vulnerable sectors like tourism and hospitality.

“The development of the vaccines we have against COVID-19 has been made possible thanks to the millions of ordinary people who have volunteered to participate in these trials to advance scientific knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

Ramaphosa praised SA scientists who discovered the new variant. He said the early identification of the variant was a result of the excellent work done by scientists in SA. It was also a direct result of the investment that SA’s science and innovation and health departments have made in its genomic surveillance capabilities. 

“We are one of the countries in the world that set up a surveillance network throughout the country to help us monitor the behaviour of COVID-19. The early detection of this variant and the work that has already gone into understanding its properties and possible effects means that we are better equipped to respond to the variant.

“We pay tribute to all our scientists who are world-renowned and widely respected and have demonstrated that they have a deep knowledge of epidemiology. There are a number of things that we already know about the variant as a result of the work our scientists have been doing on genome surveillance.

The President reminded South Africans that the following Alert Level 1 regulations remain in place:

– There is still a curfew in place from 12 midnight to 4 am.

– No more than 750 people may gather indoors and no more than 2,000 people may gather outdoors. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used.

– No more than 100 people are permitted at a funeral, and night vigils, after-funeral gatherings and ‘after-tears’ gatherings are not allowed.

– The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence.
– The sale of alcohol is permitted according to the regular licence conditions, but may not be sold during curfew hours.

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