One of these is not like the others.
  • Internal vaccine passports could be considered by the end of November, scientific advisors have told government.
  • By that stage vaccine coverage is expected to hit at least 50%.
  • That would be the time to consider "linkage of access to vaccination status or percentage coverage", a Ministerial Advisory Committee memo shows.
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On 6 September, a scientific advisory group told the government that excluding unvaccinated people from some venues or events could be viable by November.

Six days later, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised that more details on "'vaccine passports', which can be used as evidence of vaccination for various purposes and events" would be made public in a matter of weeks.

A recently launched government campaign called "Return to Play – it's in your hands" is trying to encourage citizens to get their vaccine shots on the basis that sport and entertainment venues could return to full (or at least greater) capacity when South Africa hits its herd immunity target.

The focus has been on the carrot, rather than the stick.

But a memo from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to health minister Joe Phaahla, released on Monday, shows that the government sought advice on barring entry to people who can not prove they are vaccinated, and advisors signed off on the idea.

See also | Scientists told govt to open bottle stores on Saturdays too, newly released memo shows

The advisor group was asked "whether increased numbers of attendees could be allowed in venues (including restaurants, places of worship and sports stadia) that require evidence of vaccination to allow entry", the memo shows. 

"The question of how best to use incentives to encourage vaccination uptake deserves further discussion," the MAC told Phaahla. "Once the Covid-19 vaccination coverage has exceeded 50-75%, which could be achieved by the end of October 2021, and if a verifiable vaccination record system is in place (whether electronic or otherwise), consideration could be given to further relaxation of indoor and outdoor venue limits, and linkage of access to vaccination status or percentage coverage."

The advisors were clear that the time has not yet come for a no-vaccine-no-entry policy, though.

"[G]iven that three-quarters of adults are yet to be vaccinated, linking an increase in the capacity limits of venues by restricting access only to those already vaccinated is not justified at this time," said the MAC, "nor is there unequivocal evidence for the safety of that approach or for its impact on vaccine acceptance.

"Nonetheless, the future use of suitable incentives warrants careful, principled and scientifically informed consideration."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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