2020 was a year that will always be remembered for a variety of reasons. Apart from the obvious invasion of COVID around the world, South Africa has also had somewhat of a rollercoaster ride of a year - from PPE controversies to the Jerusalema dance which acted as a unifying symbol for South Africans across the country.
By the end of 2020, a new sense of optimism seemed to surge as promising vaccines were unveiled by large pharmaceutical companies all keen on winning the race to have the first widely-available vaccine, which should signal the start of the end of the COVID-19 nightmare.
Naturally, many business owners are starting to think of returning to ‘business as usual’ once the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, but it does start to prompt questions about vaccines and how ‘business as usual’ might be practically achieved.
Here are some questions you may be wondering about…
When will the vaccine be available?
The vaccine could realistically be widely available in the first quarter of 2021 (perhaps exclusively for those working in the Health Sector at first), but latest in the second quarter.
There are a few things that need to happen before then: The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will need to authorise any vaccine, since unregistered medicine cannot legally be sold in South Africa, and the infrastructure needs to be built in order to safely roll out vaccination doses at large scale.
Will the vaccine itself be safe?
Vaccines generally take years to be developed, approved, and distributed – yet many promising COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in a much shorter time. This doesn’t mean, however, that COVID-19 vaccines will be any less safe – they have gone through the same stages that our known vaccines have gone through - which includes many tests evaluating its dangers and/or side-effects. None of the initial contenders provide any sign of danger.
Will the vaccine be optional?
Most likely. Unless the government decides to act on a provision made in the National Health Act to mandate national immunisation, you will probably be able to decide whether to receive the vaccine or not.
Can I compel my employees to get vaccinated?
Unless you have an express clause written into your employment contracts, you will not be able to compel your employees to be vaccinated when the vaccine arrives. You might be better off simply encouraging your workers to vaccinate rather than compelling them, while keeping to strict COVID-19 health protocols in the meantime.
When can we do away with facemasks in the office?
Right now, the law is still clear - facemasks need to be worn out in public and at work. This regulation may remain for as long as the state of disaster lasts. Facemasks will continue to protect and prevent the spread of Coronavirus and should not be wished away too soon, especially while no vaccine is available to the general public yet or many employees are still unvaccinated.
When can we expect to return to ‘business as usual’?
Trends right across the world seem to be showing that COVID-19 has had an immense impact in changing the way people think about work and the office space. If anything, ‘business as usual’ may be something that you’d want to avoid, since innovation and developments have shown that traditional business practices may well not be the most productive anymore. Instead of focussing on returning to ‘business as usual’, why not use the time left (before a vaccine becomes available) to see how you can improve your business practices, implement newer, more effective technologies and practices, and differentiate your business from those around you?
The National Health Act No. 61 of 2003, Regulations Relating to Communicable Diseases and the Notification of Notifiable Medical Conditions, gazetted 1987.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)