Article written by Shonisani Tshikalange (Agility Channel)
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, there are growing pleas for some sectors to be bumped up the vaccination queue.
Agility Agri, an employee benefit and healthcare solution for the agricultural industry, has asked that farmers and farm workers be prioritised for vaccination.
The Shoprite Group and the Fuel Retailers Association of SA (FRA) are among those making the same plea.
Agricultural economist Dr Kobus Laubscher, an independent consultant to Agility Agri, said farmers and farmworkers, in their capacity as essential contributors to the SA economy and the wellbeing of the country’s citizens, should be prioritised.
“If this doesn’t happen, it may jeopardise the contribution agriculture is making in terms of job creation, the continued ensuring of food security and earning foreign exchange,” he said.
Laubscher said during last year’s hard Covid-19 lockdown the sector played a major role in softening the economic blow of the pandemic in SA, but the industry still faces enormous challenges in the rebuilding of the post-pandemic economy.
“But it is vital that the wellbeing of farmers and their employees, as well as others in the food supply chain, be prioritised,” said Laubscher.
He said critical essential workers, such as those in the agricultural industry, had been overlooked.
“The country’s population stands at 60 million people, and it is agriculture’s duty to ensure that enough food is produced to feed those people. The sector achieved this with sterling success last year and it will do so again this year regardless of the third wave.
“However, these key role players in ensuring food security live mainly in rural areas where they are most vulnerable to the Sars-CoV-2 virus and not near specialist treatment facilities. Prevention will always be better than cure. It is vital that government also prioritises the industry in terms of the national vaccination programme,” said Laubscher.
Dr Jacques Snyman, medical adviser to Health Squared Medical Scheme, said flexible solutions such as mobile clinics will be invaluable tools for the efficient rollout of vaccines in rural areas.
“We should ask ourselves what more we can do at farm level to not only make the world more liveable in the present pandemic, but also to safeguard the people we rely on in the agricultural industry from future risks,” said Snyman.
“Prioritising agriculture in the vaccination programme can’t be postponed. SA cannot afford to wait,” said Laubscher.
Meanwhile, the Shoprite Group has also made an urgent call to the government to allow its more than 140,000 employees, who serve over 25 million people a month, to receive vaccinations.
“Our frontline workers, including cashiers, merchandisers and line management retail workers, have been at work every day since the onset of the pandemic, working tirelessly to ensure we provide food, essential groceries and medicine to the nation,” said CEO Pieter Engelbrecht.
He said the group was ready to roll out vaccinations on behalf of the government to its employees.
The FRA said its members had not stopped calling for the prioritisation of petrol service stations since the first announcement of the vaccination rollout programme.
The association said phase 2 of the rollout was supposed to be essential workers, which includes them.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has welcomed the government’s decision to follow through on its promise to prioritise journalists in the country’s vaccine rollout programme.
The forum said it was informed by the government on Monday that journalists would be next in line, as soon as all media houses submit their information regarding their employees’ age groups and the regions where they are stationed.
Sanef said all community media establishments around the country, including freelance journalists, would receive forms that they must complete and submit to Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).
The forum said journalists, as designated frontline workers, have risked their lives every day for the past 16 months, working throughout the pandemic as part of their responsibility to the public.