Monday, January 24

The key to resuming economic activity everywhere


Fortunately here in South Africa, when it comes to vaccines, common sense and rationality prevail for the most part, although like all nations we also have our ‘anti-vaccination’ contingent. Still, it is an important milestone that all adults can now get vaccinated. It means that many more of our population will be able to protect themselves and others.

Read: Presidential eulogy: more than half a million young people have already booked Covid jab

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The facts are clear: vaccinated people are less likely to contract the virus, to transmit it, and to be seriously affected if they do. This is the key to resuming economic activity across the board.

[We have been facing] a problem of demand rather than supply.

[Some] Vaccination centers are empty while there are still large numbers of people who should be vaccinated.

Supply remains a problem, but in a different way: it is no longer about accessing international stocks of vaccines, but about getting them to hard-to-reach people, whether in rural areas or in municipalities.

[However] surveys show that the demand problem is slowly improving. One from the University of Johannesburg showed last week that the overall vaccine acceptance rate in July had improved to 72% from 67% last December. A similar study by NIDS CRAM showed a change from 71% to 76% between March and May of this year. Global rates vary widely – a study last year found it ranged from 90% in China to 55% in Russia, so we are not outliers.

But it is clear that we need all South Africans to recognize that the vaccine is our passport to a normal life.

Education and awareness are part of the solution and it is also important that prominent people actively promote vaccination in the public domain. We need to work with churches, unions, civil society organizations, and others to promote vaccines. Employers also have a clear role to play, making it easier for employees to access information and get to vaccination sites. We have to unite all South Africans to get vaccinated.

We can see the prize that awaits us: the complete reopening of the economy. A return to mass gatherings like sporting events and entertainment. This is already a reality in countries that have achieved sufficient penetration of vaccines, generally at the 70% level.

We have a lot of work to do to get the economy to grow to regain the jobs and tax revenue we’ve lost to the pandemic, and then tackle unemployment and poverty beyond that. Unemployment figures will be released this week and will likely show that we still have more than a million fewer jobs in the formal sector than before the pandemic.

There are many measures we need to boost growth. We have adopted some, such as rule changes, to allow companies to more easily generate up to 100MW of electricity on their own. But a post-vaccine scenario is an important precondition: Business sentiment will remain weak as we operate under various levels of lockdown.

While our vaccination program started off on the wrong foot, it is doing well now. The government is working hard on mechanisms for vaccines to reach the most difficult to reach people. These include pop-up vaccination centers at taxi ranks and mobile vaccination units that can travel to rural areas. I applaud the health department for these positive developments.

The launch of the vaccine is also an achievement of cooperation between the public and private sectors.

Many companies have worked tirelessly to establish vaccination centers in their facilities for the public, in collaboration with the health department. Employers, like those in the mining sector, have implemented extensive vaccination programs of their own. Together we can accomplish more and do it faster.

We are fully aligned with this: a successful vaccination program is critical to being able to rebuild the economy and to be able to support all South Africans.

Busi Mavuso is Executive Director of Business Leadership South Africa.


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