Don’t lock us down now – or ever again: a joint letter from The Capital Hotels and Apartments & FEDHASA to President Ramaphosa.

Rosemary Anderson, FEDHASA National Chair

The rate of COVID-19 infection has increased at an unprecedented rate in the few days since President Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday 28 November 2021.

Given the sharp increase in infection rates, from 2,273 new cases on Monday this week to 11,535 new cases by the end of the week, it seems possible that the President will increase South Africa’s COVID-19 alert level soon. We anticipate that this lockdown could include the alcohol bans that we’ve seen before, and a widening of the curfew window.

We appeal to the President to not impose lockdowns on the South African economy – not now, or ever again.

It’s time we stopped protecting people who wilfully choose to not take advantage of the Government’s widespread vaccination programme. It’s time that we protect people who have chosen to protect themselves, their jobs, and the economy by getting vaccinated.

Another lockdown will be the final nail in the coffin of the South African travel, tourism, and hospitality industry that has already lost more than R1bn in bookings for travel in the last week, with the tragic implication of more than 200,000 people losing their jobs. This is against a backdrop of South Africa’s worst unemployment statistic in history, that is likely to lead to tragic instability across our economy.

The travel industry needs certainty for people to book with confidence and in advance.

We agree with FEDHASA National Chair, Rosemary Anderson, who said earlier this week: “As an industry, we are not insensitive to the fact that balancing lives and livelihoods is an impossible task and we understand that sacrifices have to be made. However, hotels and restaurants are not just a non-essential lifestyle activity which can be switched on and off to stem the spread of COVID-19.”

Along with FEDHASA, we call on Government to make every effort to avoid imposing additional restrictions on the sector, particularly over the festive season break when many businesses will be trying to recover from the losses over the past 19 months.  We appeal to him to take alternate measures to protect South Africa, its people, and its economy. These could include:

  • Mandatory vaccination. We note that several labour unions have come out in support of mandatory vaccination, following the President’s announcement of a task team to investigate this issue. Waiting for the task team to consult more broadly is going to cost lives. We urge President Ramaphosa to take action to save lives and the economy, and make vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory, now. Waiting until the new year is too late. The science is clear: vaccines work.
  • Targeted lockdowns: In The Netherlands, only vaccinated persons are able to enter indoor and outdoor entertainment events. In Germany, unvaccinated people are banned from accessing all the most essential businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies. We urge President Ramaphosa to implement a targeted lockdown like these countries have, both to incentivise people to get vaccinated, and to protect communities from the spread of COVID-19.
  • Keep travel in South Africa open: Closing provincial borders will not stop the spread of the virus – it will just kill what little hope the local tourism industry has of staying alive. We urge President Ramaphosa to keep provincial borders open.
  • Keep the beaches and public spaces open: The virus spreads less in open, outdoor spaces. It simply makes no sense to keep the closed spaces of malls and churches open, and then to forbid people to use outdoor spaces. These are an essential part of the tourism economy, and informal traders depend on them for survival. We urge President Ramaphosa to keep public spaces open, and, if anything is to be restricted, to maintain or increase the limits on the numbers of people in all closed spaces.

Finally, I call on my colleagues in business and industry to do your part too. While the law is unclear on employers right to mandate vaccination, it is up to us to take the lead in dispelling misinformation about the vaccination, and to educate our employees about how it could save lives, save jobs, and save the economy.

At The Capital Hotels and Apartments, we have invested in an extensive education programme among our team members at all of our properties, and we are proud to say that more than 90% of our staff complement is vaccinated.

If every organisation were to take responsibility for that level of education, with results as profound as that, South Africa would be well on our way to being protected from the virus, and on our way to rebuilding the economy that has been so devastated over the last two years.

President Ramaphosa can make positive, proactive decisions this weekend that will protect our people and our country – just as every South African person can. This is true, whether you’re an employer who chooses to educate your workers about the vaccine, or whether you’re just someone who wants to do the right thing by wearing your mask, respecting social distancing, and getting vaccinated against COVID-19.