In the recent family meeting, with Omnicron spreading globally and the festive season around the corner, President Ramaphosa strongly encouraged all South Africans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. While no measures were made mandatory, many businesses have since taken it upon themselves to enforce COVID-19 vaccinations, threatening disciplinary action if staff don’t comply. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, countries are imposing lockdowns on people who opt not to get vaccinated and introducing “vaccine passports” for those who have been vaccinated.
With South Africa yet to put any such restrictions in place, we wanted to know how measures such as these could affect the restaurant industry and where restaurant workers stand on the topic of vaccinations.
Out of the 269 restaurant workers who responded to Eat Out’s survey, the results were clear: more than two-thirds (66.8%) believe all restaurant workers should be vaccinated. While 76% are already vaccinated, only 64.4% believe it should be compulsory for restaurant workers to be vaccinated and only 60% believe diners should be required to show proof of vaccination before entering a restaurant’s premises.
Among the reasons why restaurant workers should be vaccinated, customer safety takes priority, closely followed by the safety of restaurant staff and their families. One respondent points out the importance of personal hygiene in the kitchen: “We work with food and our personal hygiene is where food safety starts.” Many respondents highlight that restaurant staff encounter numerous strangers who aren’t wearing masks because they are eating and drinking. “We are working in an environment where we are always in contact with strangers. To keep the staff and their families safe, we need to be proactive,” says one respondent.
Meanwhile, others fear more lockdowns and the neverending COVID cycle. “The quicker we can get this done, the quicker we can return to some sense of normal,” a respondent explains. One person also points out that vaccination passes could become mandatory and it’s in a restaurant’s best interest to ensure it is prepared if, and when, that time comes.
The other third of the survey respondents who indicated that they don’t believe vaccinations should be mandatory mainly cite personal autonomy as the reason. “It is an infringement of human rights,” says one respondent. It’s worth noting that while some respondents don’t believe vaccinations should be mandatory, they have made the choice to be vaccinated – and this is what is most important to them. “I am pro-vax and am vaccinated myself, but I do not believe anyone should be forced to do so,” says a respondent.
Others don’t believe that vaccinations are the most effective measure against COVID-19, while a handful of respondents also believe vaccinations to be unsafe. “Being vaccinated doesn’t mean much against new variants,” says one respondent. “You can still catch and transmit the virus even if you’re fully vaccinated. Mandating it is an infringement upon freedom of choice.” (To give the reader clarity, mandatory vaccine policies are not a way of forcing one to get vaccinated. The element of choice is still present.)
The subject of vaccinations is tricky, with new research on them still being released and fake news sites sharing unscientific information. It’s clear, though, that many South Africans are divided on this issue.
Some restaurant workers are anxious for life to return to normal: “I’m tired of getting sick while working. I just want to work in a safe environment,” says one person.
Others are worried about the economy and whether the industry could survive another lockdown. “Our industry has been badly hit and we need to take a strong, proactive stance to protect ourselves going forward and ensure our businesses remain positioned for a sustainable future. We just cannot afford any more loss of life and livelihoods.”
Still others are calling for South Africans to make informed decisions. “Don’t be like sheep. Make the right choices.”
While we wait to hear about new developments around vaccines and restrictions, Eat Out wishes everyone a safe festive season. Please remember to keep a distance, sanitise, wear a mask and be kind to your servers.
Note that this survey was anonymous, and the statistics and comments presented in this article were taken directly from the survey. Eat Out does not endorse any one person’s viewpoint.