FEDHASA, the leading voice of hospitality in South Africa, has called on Government to prioritise the rollout of the vaccination programme in South Africa so that the destination can considered internationally viable.
It says the roll-out delay to the second quarter of 2021, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his latest address, will put South Africa at a significant disadvantage when it comes to restoring confidence in inbound international travel.
“With the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the United Kingdom, we have renewed hope that rolling out an effective vaccine in South Africa sooner rather than later can become a reality,” says Rosemary Anderson, FEDHASA Chairperson.
The vaccine, which is also being tested in South Africa, is cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and can be stored at fridge temperature, making it far more accessible for use by GPs and even care homes.
“We need to bring South Africa in line with other countries that have already started this process so that the destination can be considered internationally viable. It is our view that travel will only return to some level of normality and by implication our tourism and hospitality sector can only begin its recovery when we start rolling-out the vaccine programme in South Africa in earnest. There simply is no other option but to fast track the vaccine programme.
“Our tourism and hospitality industry continues to be incredibly hard hit by the negative impact of COVID lockdowns. We cannot afford not to prioritise this very action that could save hundreds of thousands of livelihoods which hang in the balance,” concludes Anderson.
Will the vaccine make travel safe again? At the moment, what is known about the Pfizer vaccine particularly is that it very likely protects against mild and, though this data is weaker, serious disease. What is unknown, and what prospective travellers must consider—is whether the vaccine prevents or at least reduces infection and transmission. It is also unknown how long vaccine-mediated protection lasts. It could be months, a year, or longer.
Until enough time passes, how the vaccine will impact travel and destination restrictions is still unknown. How travellers conduct themselves in the meantime, then, is the question. Even if prevention measures and travel restrictions stay in place, once a safe and efficacious vaccine is available for mass use we can expect public attitudes and behaviors to shift accordingly. Once vaccinated, people will be tempted to flee the coop and catch the next flight to their dream destination.
So long as it is unknown whether vaccinated individuals can still catch and spread disease, however, travellers will need to exercise as much caution as ever. That means continuing to wear masks, wash hands, and yes, social distance.