Inside Covid-19: Will you be fired if you refuse vaccine? Can your employer insist? Legal insights

Can South African employers impose mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policies as a pre-requisite to return to work or as a precondition for employment? What happens if an employee refuses to wear a mask. We’ve got the answers to these questions and more on how Covid-19 has changed employment law in South Africa, with Imraan Mahomed, Director of Employment Law at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. And, with mass vaccination the big focus for governments around the world as the spread of Covid-19 remains out-of-control, we hear from our partners at Bloomberg why some healthcare workers in the United States are refusing to be vaccinated. – Jackie Cameron

Inside Covid-19 headlines

  • The biggest vaccination programme in history has begun, with 45 countries rolling out vaccines.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic is at its most devastating in South Africa, with more than 190,000 coronavirus infections and about 5,000 deaths since the start of the year. Nearly 36,000 people have died in South Africa of the disease according to official statistics. At least 15,000 people are seriously ill in hospital with roughly one third of these people on oxygen, President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the beginning of the week. In an update at the start of the week on national rules to curb the spread of Covid-19, the president said funerals have been superspreaders, with many funeral attendees among the dead. Nevertheless, he stopped short at cancelling funerals when he announced adjustments to Covid-19 containment measures on Monday night. Curfew has been tweaked, political and sports gatherings won’t be allowed, and the government has promised an aggressive vaccination roll-out programme. President Ramaphosa says the govt is in the process of procuring vaccines through 3 channels and explains the order in the queue.
  • Sibanye Stillwater, one of South Africa’s largest precious-metals producers, offered to help the government’s vaccination campaign by inoculating hundreds of thousands of mineworkers and people living in communities near its operations, reports Bloomberg. The company that employs about 84,000 workers has enough capacity at its 45 health and medical facilities to vaccinate 18,000 people a day, Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman said in an interview Thursday. The government should use Sibanye, as well as facilities at other mining companies, for its campaign because the industry has expertise in screening for and treating tuberculosis and HIV, he said. “We see vaccination as a major issue in re-establishing economic stability,” Froneman said. “As an industry we probably have more capacity than the national health service and I think it’s really important that government takes note of that.” South Africa’s mining industry, which employs more than 450,000 people, immediately prepared a range of measures last year to curb the outbreak, from checking the temperature of workers to distributing flu shots and contact-tracing. Mines have their own health facilities because of the large concentration of workers in often remote locations. Even though the government has said it will manage the campaign, mining companies are in the best position to vaccinate communities living near mines, Froneman said.
  • South African scientists have criticised the government for the slow pace of its vaccine procurement. Details about discussions with vaccine manufacturers were only released this month, and a charity had to pay the deposit for South Africa to join the Covax program. Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country will get an initial 20 million doses, with the first batch of 1.5 million shots of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc likely to arrive this month.
  • The Minerals Council of South Africa, the industry lobby group for large producers, urged the government on Friday to speed up negotiations with vaccine suppliers and said it wants to support the vaccination campaign together with the country’s business associations, reports Bloomberg. “We need government to focus on securing the vaccines and we will work collectively — together with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, BUSA and B4SA and mining unions — to urgently roll out the vaccination program,” Chief Executive Officer Roger Baxter said in the statement. “This is a critical national effort.”
  • People who get vaccinated against Covid-19 in Poland will receive a confirmation document, a “vaccine passport”, after having received a second dose of the vaccine, according to Polish deputy Health Minister Anna Goławska. Poland is the latest country to welcome the idea of a “vaccine passport” as many member states consider solutions to restart cross border travel, reports Euractiv Media Network (read more) France, whose population counts a high number of vaccine sceptics, has ruled out such an idea. At the same time, Romania said a vaccination certificate must be used for medical reasons, not for travel.
  • Pfizer and federal health officials are investigating the death of a health-care worker 16 days after the person received the first dose of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine, says Bloomberg. So far, the evidence doesn’t suggest a connection, Pfizer said in a statement on Tuesday. The Florida-based physician developed a rare disorder called severe thrombocytopenia that decreases the body’s ability to clot blood and stop internal bleeding.
  • The Scottish Government has been forced to retract its Covid-19 vaccine delivery plan following a major backlash from UK ministers and manufacturers, report UK media outlets. Ministers in Westminster reacted furiously on Wednesday evening to the decision by the Scottish Government to publish its plan for deliveries, which has effectively revealed how many doses the UK is expecting. The vaccine delivery schedule and storage locations have not been disclosed by the UK government, with ministers and officials warning the vaccine is a “valuable commodity” and therefore a security risk, said a Scottish newspaper. There is also concern disclosure will lead to vaccine manufacturers, such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, facing backlash from countries that have not secured as good a deal as the UK. A UK government source is quoted as saying: “The reason we didn’t want to publish these figures was because everyone in the world wants these vaccines, and if other countries see how much we are getting they are likely to put pressure on the drug firms to give them some of our allocation.”
  • Italy extended emergency powers through April 30 amid the pandemic, according to deliberations taken at a cabinet meeting Wednesday night. The measures adopted by the government also include a ban on movement between regions for at least another month, and the establishment of a national platform to coordinate vaccine distribution.
  • Thailand is pitching six golf courses as state quarantine centres to foreign tourists as it looks to gradually reopen its tourism industry, says Bloomberg. Patrons will be able to enjoy golf and roam freely within the premises rather than confining themselves in their rooms during a two-week mandatory quarantine. It marks the Southeast Asian nation’s latest effort to lure foreign visitors as the pandemic devastates its vibrant tourism industry. Previous offers of special long-stay visas had evoked a lukewarm response.
  • A team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts arrived in the central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of Covid-19, and is expected to be quarantined for at least 14 days, says Bloomberg. The quarantine rule for the team will be the same as that for other inbound travellers, a spokesman for China’s National Health Commission said on Wednesday. The delay of the WHO’s visit came as China’s slow response and revised narrative of the pandemic’s origins have made it harder for the world to investigate how it began. The virus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019.
  • A survey released this week by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed an “alarming” acceptance rate of just 37% for coronavirus vaccines in the city, as the government prepares to start a free vaccination program next month. Researchers based their findings on phone interviews with 1,200 adults.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s experimental one-shot Covid-19 vaccine generated a long-lasting immune response in an early safety study, providing a glimpse at how it will perform in the real world as the company inches closer to approaching U.S. regulators for clearance, says Bloomberg. More than 90% of participants made immune proteins, called neutralising antibodies, within 29 days after receiving the shot, according to the report, and participants formed the antibodies within 57 days. The immune response lasted for the full 71 days of the trial.
  • China ended the Year of Covid in many ways stronger than it started, accelerating its movement toward the centre of a global economy long dominated by the US, reports The Wall Street Journal. “While the US and Europe wait for vaccine rollouts to get fully back on track, China is the only major economy expected to report growth for 2020, helping it close the gap with the US. It has expanded its role in global trade and shored up its position as the world’s factory floor, despite years of US efforts to persuade companies to invest elsewhere. China’s consumer market – lifted by its quick recovery from Covid-19 – keeps gaining momentum, making it a bigger driver of global companies’ earnings. And the country has solidified its standing as a force in global financial markets, with a record share of initial public offerings and secondary listings in 2020, large capital inflows into stocks and bonds, and indexes that far outperformed even the U.S.’s strong showing.” The upshot is a world more reliant on China for growth than ever before, says the US media outlet. “For 2020, China’s economy is expected to account for 16.8% of global gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, according to forecasts by Moody’s Analytics. That’s up from 14.2% in 2016, before the US and China entered a trade war. The US is expected to make up 22.2%, virtually unchanged from 22.3% in 2016.” China’s 2020 increase in its share of global GDP – 1.1 percentage points – is its largest in a single year since at least the 1970s. For more on that, visit

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