South Africa’s largest medical aid, Discovery Health (three million adult beneficiaries), has announced its Mass Vaccination Programme, which aims to vaccinate 50 000 adult Discovery members per day from May 1.
As there is a correlation between private medical aid members and international travellers, both corporate and leisure (they are in a common LSM), Travel News canvassed industry experts to find out whether this move would help to kickstart outbound travel sooner than expected.
According to ceo of Discovery Limited, Adrian Gore, it appears that the government has secured enough doses of J&J and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to vaccinate approximately 21m people. A further batch of J&J doses is being negotiated currently, sufficient to vaccinate more than 27m. The combination of these will exceed South Africa’s herd immunity target of 29m people.
Ceo of Tourvest Travel Services, Morné du Preez, welcomed Discovery’s initiative and believed that the vaccination of the tourism frontline workers would help to kickstart the inbound industry but he was sceptical about the impact that the vaccination programme would have on the outbound sector.
“The current most pressing issues for the outbound industry are the international travel restrictions and quarantine requirements that have been imposed against South Africans. While vaccination roll-out in South Africa will eventually lead to the easing of these restrictions, the fast-tracking of only three million Discovery members will not result in a quick fix for the outbound travel industry. Corporate travellers look at the rules of the accepting country and the time and monetary cost involved in sending a staff member on a business trip. This is generally not worth their while if quarantine and travel restrictions remain in place for South Africans,” said Morné.
eTravel md, Tammy Hunt, agreed that the involvement of the private sector in the vax roll-out would speed things up considerably, but she said the vaccination of the masses would still be the key to easing the international restrictions imposed against South Africa that were hampering the travel industry at present.
FCTG md, Andrew Stark, applauded the move and challenged corporates in South Africa to invest in the vaccination of their staff and their families to speed up roll-out, which would be greatly beneficial to the recovery of South Africa’s GDP and the reinstatement of the air connectivity that South Africa had lost during this period. He added that corporates would also be far more willing to send their employees on business trips if they were vaccinated.
“It appears that many countries plan to make proof of vaccination a requirement for international travel for the next few years and, whether morally right or wrong, the vaccination of the South African travelling public would therefore be vital for the recovery of the travel industry,” said Andrew.
TBCSA ceo, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, said South Africa had put a well-thought-out vaccination programme together that aimed to vaccinate 150 000 people per day by the private health sector and another 100 000 people per day by the public sector. “It is undeniable that, when the vaccines arrive and are administered, they will have a positive effect on inbound, outbound, corporate and leisure travel,” said Tshifhiwa.
He said the pressing question was still “when will the vaccines arrive?”.
Discovery expects to be ready to roll out its vaccination programme by May 1, as soon as stock is received from the Department of Health. (As pharmaceutical manufacturers are still not allowing private players to procure vaccines directly, Discovery’s vaccination programme remains dependent on the speed and success of state-led vaccination procurement.)
The programme will see the establishment of more than 20 vaccination centres around the country and more than 500 staff deployed. The communication says the company plans to deal first with its 550 000 ‘high-risk’ individuals, within a few weeks of commencement, and then continue to immunise the remainder of its three million adult beneficiaries.