South Africa is considering making vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory for access to public services and businesses, as it seeks to boost jabs surveys ahead of a fourth wave of Omicron-driven infections .
The latest surge in infections in Africa’s most industrialized economy is increasing at a faster rate than previous waves, making vaccination all the more important, scientists said.
The average of seven days of daily cases rose from this week to more than 4,800, compared to just a few hundred cases in the middle of last month, scientists said Friday in an information session by the Ministry of Health.
About a quarter of the population in the African country hardest hit by the pandemic, which discovered the new variant at the end of November, has been vaccinated. The launch was held back by a late start, early supply shortages, and more recently distribution problems and a lack of communication to allay safety concerns.
Reluctant to impose a harsh restraint, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a debate on the introduction of vaccine mandates.
“We realize that the introduction of such measures is a difficult and complex issue, but if we do not address it seriously and as a matter of urgency, we will still be vulnerable to new variants and will continue to drive new waves of infection. suffering, “he said in a televised speech late last month.” Any plan will emerge after consultations with labor and business.
The sharp increase in infections in Gauteng, South Africa’s economic and travel hub, suggests that Omicron may be more contagious and the first detailed study in the strongly mutated strain suggests that it is more likely to cause reinfections than previous variants.
But hospital admissions have been dominated by the unvaccinated, suggesting that vaccines will still protect against serious diseases with the new variant.
At current rates, however, about 4 million South Africans over the age of 50 may still be unvaccinated as 2021 ends, when the fourth wave may be at its most intense.
The country has recorded nearly 3 million Covid cases. Analysis by the South African Medical Research Council indicates that since May 2020, there have been more than 273 000 deaths above normal levels in South Africa, well above an official toll of around 90 000.
After facing previous waves of repeated economic-wide constraints, businesses in particular have called for a more purposeful approach.
“We need to move quickly to a situation where only vaccinated individuals should be allowed to travel in buses, taxis and planes, or to eat and drink in indoor establishments such as restaurants and taverns,” said Martin Kingston, chairman of Business for South Africa. , a body set up in the pandemic, said after the discovery of the Omicron variant.
With unemployment near nearly 50 percent in the third quarter, job-based mandates are hard to enforce. “On paper [mandates] sounds great, in fact it can be very difficult to implement, ”said Russell Rensburg, director of South Africa’s Rural Health Advocacy Project.
Discovery, the country’s largest medical scheme, said this week that almost all of its 10,000 employees had been vaccinated, compared to about a fifth when it announced in September that a mandate would take effect in 2022. Other insurers have similar measures and elite universities are mandating to introduce students.
Cosatu, the largest trade union federation and a political ally of the ruling African National Congress, has said it prefers such measures over a repeat of job-destroying restrictions. “Any restrictions going forward should be imposed on those who fail to vaccinate,” it said.
However, strong unions in the public sector remain reluctant. South Africa’s Association of Civil Servants – representing nurses, teachers and police officers – said it was encouraging members to get samples, but added that “many people are still afraid of the effects of the vaccine, and of making vaccination compulsory. , will contribute to this anxiety. ” .
Fears of side effects and a lack of clear information on the subject have sparked hesitation, according to ‘social listening’ reports for South Africa’s health ministry.
Other barriers include expensive transport to reach vaccine sites and problems with ‘micro-supply’ of running out of doses, especially at local mobile units or booster sites, although there are many at national level now.
This week, the government doubled vaccination vouchers for people over 50 who have yet to receive their first sample to R200 ($ 12.50) as compensation for transport tariffs.
“We should have just been at malls at the beginning,” rather than relying on vaccination sites clinics for early stages of deployment, Rensburg said. “Teachers had to leave schools to be vaccinated, rather than health workers going to schools.”