Let’s get vaccinated and open up our stagnant economy – Piet Mouton on his open letter to all South Africans

PSG chief executive Piet Mouton has gone out on a limb, putting pen to paper on one of the more controversial issues of 2021, vaccinations. Mouton’s message is simple – vaccinations are the only solution to getting the economy up and running again. He outlines that those not willing to get vaccinated are creating a burden for the rest of society. Although data can be manipulated to suit many different narratives, the overwhelming evidence is that vaccines are effective against preventing serious illness and death. There have been a few rare cases of the vaccines creating serious illness and death but Mouton argues that we can’t live in fear of the isolated, low percentage scenarios. One million jobs have already been lost in South Africa as a result of this pandemic. How many more are we willing to lose? – Justin Rowe-Roberts

Piet Mouton on his thought process before putting pen to paper on his open letter:

It started with the discussion we had at the Curro board meeting where they decided to do the principle of mandatory vaccination for the employees working at the office. We obviously all have these discussions with our colleagues and our friends at home. Then there are some people with wild ideas on the anti-vax side but they don’t give a solution to how we get to open up the economy again. As I see it, it’s fairly simple. The moment the hospitals are too full, our president and the government has no choice but to implement stricter lockdown levels because we can’t have a medical or health care system that’s being overrun and people dying on the streets that don’t have access to hospitalisation. We’ve been sent the vaccines, we’ve got vaccine access for everybody. I mean, nobody wants to be randomly injected with anything that comes at you, but this seems to be a solution. A million people have lost their jobs. How do we get the system going again? What’s the alternative? So if you start from that base – no anti-vaxxer can give me that answer as to what is the alternative to get the country going again.

On forcing the issue with respect to mandatory vaccination: 

There’s going to be a long debate about that. I can tell you I’ve received some very interesting emails and WhatsApp’s this morning on the stance I’ve taken. But the problem is there should be consequences to your decision. I fully accept that some people will never want to be vaccinated, but there must be a consequence. Because of their decision, I don’t want to have any restrictions, but their decision means that I’m being restricted. If you don’t want to be vaccinated, you must live with those decisions. I have been vaccinated. I want to continue with life as normal as possible. It was an interesting debate at Curro because parents have started telling us that they don’t want to send their kids to the school if the educators aren’t vaccinated. So it has to do with the safety of your clients. I think we do have a responsibility to protect our clients – if you’re providing a service with them on an interactive basis. You must make sure that you create a safe working environment for them. I am not a doctor, but they say you’re more likely to transmit the disease if you are unvaccinated. I don’t know how they test it. But if I’m working with somebody who’s unvaccinated, the chance of them exposing me to the disease is also higher. So they are exposing me as well. So it’s your colleagues that you need to protect as well.

By Piet Mouton

This is an open letter to all South Africans.

We need to lift all lockdown restrictions as soon as possible to place the country on a path to higher employment and economic recovery, which will only be possible through widespread vaccination. Those stubbornly choosing not to vaccinate, not only pose a health risk, but also an economic risk. You are free to choose – but you are not free from the consequences of your choices.

While we see many debates unfold around vaccination in the media, including social media, we have not seen many that openly acknowledge that the vaccination conversation is, in fact, also an economic one. As a listed company that has witnessed and experienced the full effect of the past 18 months on our frail economy, we feel it necessary to also bring this side of the debate to light.

Yes, it is now 18 months since the first lockdown, and we are still in uncharted and, perhaps, even more stormy waters.

For one, the unemployment rate has increased from 30.1% to 34.4%. The increase of 4.3 percentage points means approximately one million more people are now without jobs. Surely, this must frighten all South Africans.

While the political and social complexities that contribute to our high unemployment rate are well known, we also have to acknowledge that fully reopening the economy is an integral step in stopping the ongoing erosion of our economy and to turn the tide on unemployment – which will help alleviate the suffering of so many of our people and likely assist in preventing social unrest such as the severe looting and burning we recently witnessed in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

However, we have the means at our disposal, something that will strengthen government’s hand in reducing restrictions, and that can prevent further economic deterioration. That solution is vaccination.

We need to get the people of South Africa vaccinated as a matter of urgency. While it took some time, our government has made an enormous effort to step up the vaccination programme. Vaccines are now freely available to the entire adult population of South Africa.

Our main concern now lies with those who actively choose not to vaccinate. Yes, it is an act of free choice, but it is an economically and socially inconsiderate and selfish one with far-reaching consequences. We simply do not have the luxury of engaging in poorly substantiated arguments on vaccine conspiracy.

Some of these theories are very far-fetched and whoever hold these opinions are denying the evidence of the reality that surrounds them. We are heading with warp speed towards a place where those who are throwing their right of choice on the table, will see those same rights severely impacted or even taken away by social unrest, weakening economies, death and destruction.

Inconsiderate and selfish

It is quite apparent that those countries that have vaccinated a large enough proportion of their populations have reopened their economies. The UK is one example where the vaccination percentage is high and the government has done away with most restrictions. Even though the number of infections has increased, the number of hospitalised patients and the death rate have materially decreased.

Discovery’s research suggests that people who have been vaccinated are three times less likely to infect others, four times less likely to end up in high care/ICU and ten times less likely to die compared to unvaccinated individuals. It is also clear from a plethora of scientific, peer reviewed and substantiated evidence that vaccines against Covid-19 are indeed safe, or at least as safe as other registered medications on the market.

Vaccines have been proven to be effective and are our only viable countermeasure to avoid ongoing lockdowns, economic destruction, hardship, conflict and social isolation.

So, why do we dare say that you are inconsiderate or selfish if you do not vaccinate?

If a sufficient percentage of our population is not vaccinated, we will simply never return to normality again.

The Western Cape has vaccinated just over 30% of its adult population to date. As of 6 September 2021, Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town had admitted 156 Covid-19 patients, of whom only three patients had been vaccinated. All 66 patients in high care/ICU and 32 patients on ventilators were unvaccinated.

According to reports from the US, those states with poor vaccine uptake currently bear the brunt of severely ill and hospitalised patients infected with the Delta variant.

It is frightening to see how even a developed country’s healthcare system can be overwhelmed. Our situation is far more tenuous – in South Africa, our public healthcare system was already barely coping prior to the pandemic.

Vaccination is an economic issue

The last 18 months have forced the system and healthcare practitioners to their knees.

Repeated, severe lockdowns have become the only way to offer some reprieve … but at a massive cost to the greater economy and with far-reaching consequences on the lives and livelihoods of our people. Ultimately, vaccination is not only a social issue, but also an economic one.

We are standing at the edge of an economic precipice. There are notable differences in the IMF’s global economic forecasts since the start of the pandemic. Though estimates in October 2020 predicted a global economic rebound in 2021, by April 2021, it was clear that economic recovery would not be uniform across country groups, most likely driven by concerns around inequitable access to vaccines.

While upper-middle-income countries are projected to make stronger-than-expected recoveries, there was a significant downward revision of economic growth for lower-middle-income and low-income countries, such as South Africa.

We are quick to cite: “together we are stronger”. But those words need to be actioned right now – more so than ever – also in terms of vaccination. Getting the vaccine should be considered an investment, not only in society’s health, but also in desperately needed economic recovery efforts.

Lower healthcare costs, increased overall economic activity, increased access to the workplace, a functioning education system and the end of the social restrictions faced by South Africans will all contribute to revive a very fragile economy.

Burden of lockdown should fall on unvaccinated

We have no doubt that the following will be viewed as extremely controversial by some, but we believe that we have reached a point where our government should start enforcing principles like those implemented in many other countries around the world.

If you are not vaccinated, your access to restaurants, public parks, shopping centres, airports, businesses, educational institutions etc., should be limited.

If you prefer lockdown and its consequences above vaccination, then the burden of lockdown should be yours, and yours alone.

The president has alluded to some form of restriction for the unvaccinated, and we support this. Obviously, there are individuals with specific medical conditions that may have legitimate concerns about vaccination, but these individuals are so few relative to the size of our entire population that making an exception for them to not be vaccinated should not pose a risk to society at large.

Therefore, for those who either cannot or refuse to see the ripple effect of their choice not to vaccinate, may we suggest that they then also accept the following:

  • They lose their right to complain about the state of the economy.
  • If their business is struggling, they must accept that they have contributed to its potential demise.
  • If there is more social unrest fuelled by poverty and unemployment exacerbated by further lockdowns, they should know that they have failed to play their part in preventing it.
  • They should not complain about a lack of service delivery. If the deeds offices, municipal offices, driver’s licence centres, etc. are closed because somebody contracted Covid-19, they should accept this as the consequence of their choices.
  • They should not complain but should accept lockdowns, curfews and other regulations deemed necessary to curb infections.
  • If schools are closed, they should accept that they have failed their children and the children of the country and are preventing them from being educated.
  • If they fall ill with Covid-19, they should accept that seeking help from an overburdened healthcare system could have been avoided and that they are helping push our country back into lockdown.
  • They should also accept that by overburdening the healthcare system, they potentially prevent others from accessing hospital ICUs, thereby depriving them of much needed medical care. The potential loss of lives will be at the hands of those who do not vaccinate.

Choice comes with responsibility and consequences.

So, we urge you to please reconsider your choices carefully and get vaccinated – to protect yourself, to protect those you love, to protect our very fragile society, and to help rebuild our economy!

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