Whatever sport has tickled your fancy over the past European or American summer, most of us were envious of the large crowds that have been welcomed back into their sporting arenas — for the most part, not physically distancing or wearing the ubiquitous face mask. It’s a picture of a world before March 2020.
The Covid-19 pandemic is certainly not a thing of the past for the northern hemisphere nations, as case numbers rise among children in the US now returning to school and we should watch what unfolds as they enter the autumn and winter months.
What has enabled a return to something resembling normality has been their vaccine roll-out: more than 65% of the UK and 53% of the US population is fully vaccinated. In staging some of their crowd-filled events, venues have introduced vaccine passports to clamp down on the spread of the disease that has taken more than 4.5-million lives globally, and counting. Estimates for the lives lost as a result of the Spanish flu just more than 100 years ago are in the region of 25-million to 50-million over its two-year span.
As South Africa settles into spring and looks forward to the summer months against the backdrop of a vaccine programme that has long passed its nascent stage, with about 18% of the population having received at least one jab, the country’s policymakers and leading businesses are considering just how to get us back to normal, whatever that will mean in a post-Covid world.
Although the drive behind Discovery’s call to accept only vaccinated staff back to its headquarters may have as much to do with filling its ludicrously expensive monthly rental commitment for its futuristic office in Sandton, there will certainly be an increasing clamour by other businesses to introduce some sort of vaccine passport. That is likely to cause quite a stir, given the hesitancy that has emerged as a significant stumbling block to the South African vaccine roll-out.
The legalities will be interesting to watch and we’ve explored this topic in the Mail & Guardian this week. On the surface, companies do have the right to determine who enters their premises: for example, construction or mining companies have regulations as to how workers or visitors dress on site. Walk around without your hardhat and you are likely to receive a warning or possibly even be fired. Will a vaccine passport bear a similar consequence for workers to ensure a safe working environment?
It will be a fascinating journey back to “normal”; some people have even raised comparisons with apartheid divisions — between those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t. This debate won’t be helped by the social-media echo chambers, where conspiracy theories have found a new life since the advent of Facebook some 17 years ago.
The industry perhaps most in need of direction of just how we get back to what we were in 2019 is the sports sector. The Springboks may have given a timely reminder to the rugby-watching public that they are indeed the world champions in defeating the British and Irish Lions, but how much more of a statement would it have been before a jam-packed Ellis Park or Cape Town stadium? The struggling South African Rugby Union would have greatly benefited, we suspect. Kaizer Chiefs’ miraculous run to the Champions League final would have been better accompanied by at least a half-full FNB stadium, which could have pushed them over the line.
Will vaccine passports be the ticket to our new normal? If the northern hemisphere emerges from its colder months without anything approaching the surges in cases we’ve seen over the past 18 months, there’s every likelihood they will be.