No Vaccine, No Entry?

Why vaccine restricted access is not an option in South Africa

By Reabetswe Khutsoane (Staff Writer)

On the 1st of February 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the following: “But I want to be clear. Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated.”

Accepting the ultimate reservation of right of admission provided to restaurants and bars, should these businesses restrict entry to their establishments to non-vaccinated persons? The immediate responses are twofold: yes and no. 

The argument for turning down unvaccinated, would-be patrons can be simplified and given as follows. Establishments want to keep their staff and customers safe, and reduce their risk of shutting down due to association with a case of Covid-19. Additionally, this requirement could increase the number of people choosing to get vaccinated, should they want to enter these establishments. However, the latter case begs the question: was this a choice the now-vaccinated patron made of their own free will, or a choice they were somewhat forced to make?

A vaccine requirement to enter restaurants and bars has only been implemented in the USA and several countries and cities across Europe. Most of these have over 50% of their adults vaccinated, with the UK having over 80%. These vastly contrast to South Africa, now approaching the 20% mark.

Following setbacks in some of the earlier stages of the vaccine rollout and looking at the current rate of vaccinations, it is clear that South Africa will not reach the target of 40 million vaccinated adults by the end of 2021. If we maintain the current rate of vaccinations, it will take over a year to reach that target. This makes it impractical for establishments to be restricting access to their spaces for non-vaccinated persons.

The joint efforts of the government and the private sector have made vaccines available to most of the country, which allows for almost anyone who wants to get vaccinated to get their jabs. With everyone above the age of 18 being eligible to get the vaccine from the 1st of September, we can expect to see an increase in the rate at which people get vaccinated. Many people in this group are eager to get the vaccine if it means that life can return to normal as soon as possible, but we can’t ignore the number of people who choose to not get vaccinated.

At the current rate of vaccinations, it would be unprofitable for restaurants and bars to restrict their access to vaccinated persons. Following the effects of the lockdowns, reducing their access to only 20% of the population is a financial limitation that these establishments certainly do not need. 

Perhaps this is a conversation that can be brought back to the table in a few months’ time, if not a year from now. As for right now, restaurants, bars and the economy as a whole cannot afford to prohibit non-vaccinated persons from these establishments. At the end of the day, I believe that people should be able to choose to get the vaccination of their own free will, not because they have to if they want to go out. After all, as much as the vaccine reduces both chances of catching and transmitting covid, it does not guarantee either of these, so the risk of covid remains.


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