Covid-19 workplace restrictions must be reconsidered, says BLSA

24th January 2022 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

It is time for the country to review Covid-19 restrictions on workplaces, business organisation Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso says in her weekly newsletter.

She explains that Covid-19 restrictions were last relaxed at the end of December, when gatherings of up to 1 000 people were permitted indoors and the curfew abolished. Since then, the Omicron wave has firmly receded.

“But restrictions have not yet been relaxed for workplaces, leaving many companies unable to resume normal operations. Organised business is working on many fronts to improve health practices and provide legal certainty around vaccine mandates,” Mavuso notes.

She emphasises that, as it stands, employers must enable employees to work from home where possible and they must also ensure physical distancing and mask-wearing.

Moreover, she says prevention policies must be guided by scientific evidence with due regard to the social and economic costs.

“South Africa does not have the luxury of fiscal room to continue to absorb economic losses. We need economic growth to recover as fast as possible. Unemployment is the most obvious consequence of the pressure that the economy has experienced through the crisis, but government revenue has also suffered as tax collections have dwindled (with the lucky exception of the mining sector thanks to high commodity prices).

“The twin pressures of reduced revenue and demands for increased social support can spell disaster for government’s finances,” Mavuso says.

She points out that companies should be free to choose whether to require employees on site or not – “if employees really are more productive working from home, we can expect companies to allow employees to do so”.

Mavuso says the health risks of working on site can be reduced by employers introducing regular testing on site. She also highlights the importance of vaccination.

“Many employers are requiring staff to be vaccinated as part of the return to the workplace. Clear guidance from government on doing so would help for this obvious risk-reducing step to become more prevalent.

“Social distancing requirements can be maintained if the evidence points to it being necessary, as well as mask-wearing in communal spaces, but it seems unnecessary to wear a mask while seated given it is not a requirement in many other contexts,” Mavuso expands.

She emphasises that appropriate adjustments to Covid-19 restrictions must also be part of the country’s policy agenda.