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Covid-19 restrictions eased as vaccines arrive in SA and race to herd immunity begins

Deputy President David Mabuza and President Cyril Ramaphosa inspect the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine which arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

Deputy President David Mabuza and President Cyril Ramaphosa inspect the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine which arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

Published Feb 2, 2021


Cape Town - South Africans huddled around their televisions and radios last night with an air of expectation that restrictions to halt the spread of Covid-19 would be eased – and President Cyril Ramaphosa did not disappoint.

The falling number of daily infections for the past month, from just over 10 000 to around 5 000, means that South Africans can once again enjoy a drink, go to the beach, and stay out until at least 11pm.

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Bars and restaurants will once again be able to serve booze to their patrons.

In his usual deadpan delivery, Ramaphosa said a new chapter had begun in South Africa’s struggle against the coronavirus

This as the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca made by India’s Serum Institute arrived in the country.

“The arrival of these vaccines contains the promise that we can turn the tide on this disease that has caused so much devastation and hardship in our country and across the world,” said Ramaphosa.

South Africa was one of the countries where the vaccine’s trial had proved successful.

“Now that the vaccines have arrived they will be tested at the National Control Laboratory to confirm that their integrity has been maintained during transportation,” said Ramaphosa.

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In addition to the 1 million doses from India, Ramaphosa said another 500 000 would arrive later this month, also from India’s Serum Institute.

He said the vaccine would be distributed across the country to “thousands of our health-care workers who every day put their own lives at risk to save others”.

He said government's phased roll-out strategy would prioritise health-care workers in the public and private sector for the vaccine.

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“Provincial health departments have submitted their distribution plans and we have identified about 200 facilities to which the vaccines can be distributed,” said Ramaphosa.

Once health-care workers had been covered, Ramaphosa said phase 2 of the roll-out strategy would target essential workers, people over 60, people with comorbidities and those living in nursing homes and hostels.

The rest of the adult population will be targeted in phase 3 of the vaccination programme.

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Ramaphosa said the Health Department had developed an Electronic Vaccine Data System to streamline the vaccine registration and roll-out process.

“This system allows a person to make an appointment as soon as they qualify for a vaccination at the vaccine centre closest to them. The system will record vaccinations as they are administered,” said Ramaphosa.

South Africa has secured 12 million doses in total from the global Covax facility, Ramaphosa said.

“We have secured 9 million vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, commencing with delivery in the second quarter. Johnson & Johnson has contracted Aspen, one of our pharmaceutical companies, to manufacture these vaccines in South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.

Along with this, Pfizer had committed 20 million vaccine doses which should start arriving in South Africa after March.

Ramaphosa said the government was aiming to secure enough doses to achieve herd immunity.

“This is when enough of the population is immune to the virus to provide indirect protection to those who are not immune. This should bring the spread of the virus under control,” said Ramaphosa.

He said scientists had estimated that South Africa would reach herd immunity when 67% of the population was immune to Covid-19 – about 40 million people.

“We aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status,” said Ramaphosa after reports at the weekend that only South Africans would be able to get the shot.

Cape Argus