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Glimmer of hope as Covid-19 vaccines arrive, but Ramphosa concerned about economy

South Africa’s first consignment of Covid-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India arrives at the OR Tambo International Airport. The first phase of the vaccination programme will prioritise around 1.2 million frontline health workers. Picture: Elmond Jiyane (GCIS)

South Africa’s first consignment of Covid-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India arrives at the OR Tambo International Airport. The first phase of the vaccination programme will prioritise around 1.2 million frontline health workers. Picture: Elmond Jiyane (GCIS)

Published Feb 2, 2021


Pretoria - While the arrival of the first batch of vaccines is the biggest reassurance South Africans have ever received since the outbreak of Covid-19, president Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech showed he was more concerned about the economy than the psychological and emotional “havoc” the pandemic had on the public.

This is according to political commentator, Professor Tinyiko Malulele, who spoke to Pretoria News after the president’s latest address to the nation last night.

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Maluleke said Ramaphosa’s less than upbeat posture and tone was a sign of the absence of surety around the vaccines.

It also suggested that the negotiations were far from being concluded with the other pharmaceutical companies that were expected to supply the rest of the vaccine doses.

Maluleke added that while most South Africans expected to hear more about the vaccine, Ramaphosa provided very little details.

“The president speaks about promised vaccines from Pfizer, and from Johnson & Johnson. But he is still unable to tell us when. He just talks about the quarter, and that tells you probably that the discussions, acquisition and procurement is not yet quite sealed, which is why they can’t tell us the date. So, the absence of more surety around the vaccines and the smallness of the current vaccines that arrived doesn’t bode well for the average South African,” Maluleke said.

However, he maintained that Ramaphosa’s speech gave a glimmer of hope to the country.

“Yet, it is hopeful because now we have some indication that we can acquire vaccines. We have a million vaccines that have arrived. I thought the president would make more of that. He didn’t. I saw the president and government continuing to show more concern for the economy, which is very very much welcome and very much understandable. We have some lowering of restrictions around the curfew, liquor and so on. But I have yet to hear the government show some appreciation of the psychological toll that this virus is having on South Africans. I don’t think they quite appreciate the psychological, emotional havoc,” Malulke said. .

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“The biggest thing that re-assured South Africans today is not his speech. It is the arrival of the vaccines. The arrival of the vaccines, few as they are, is a moral booster. It is the biggest sign of hope this country has seen since we have been under lockdown. So, for me, what marked change today is the arrival of that Emirates flight.”

General Secretary of the South African Federal Trade Union, Zwelinzima Vavi, said it was encouraging that South Africa received vaccines yesterday. He concurred with Maluleke that Ramaphosa’s speech was lacking in details.

"By that second quarter more people would have lost their lives. We wish these announcements were made last year so that by now we would have a massive vaccine rollout campaign. It is concerning because even the front line healthcare workers must wait two weeks before they receive this vaccine,” Vavi said.

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He added that while his federation welcomed changes in curfew and the lift on the ban of the sale of alcohol, which would enable industries to save jobs, it was disappointing that Ramaphosa did not mention anything about reintroducing Ters and basic income grants for those who lost jobs.

This comes after Ramaphosa used his latest televised speech to the nation to reassure South Africans that while all adults living in the country would get the Covid-19 vaccine regardless of their country of origin, nobody would be forced to take it.

Speaking hours after the country received its first consignment of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, the president stressed that South Africans would not be forbidden from travelling or taking part in some activities unless they took the jab.

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This came amid claims in some quarters that the vaccine was unsafe, and that travel and employment restrictions that would be imposed by the government to force the public to take it.

“We aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status. We will be putting in place measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history. It is in the best interests of all that as many of us receive the vaccine as possible. But I want to be clear. Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated. Nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, nor will the vaccine be administered in secret. Any rumours to this effect are both false and dangerous,” Ramaphosa said. .

He added that the vaccines would be rolled out after being tested at the National Control Laboratory to confirm that their integrity has been maintained during transportation.

“After testing, they will be distributed across the country to thousands of our healthcare workers who every day put their own lives at risk to save others. We must ensure their protection as they fight for ours. In accordance with our phased rollout strategy, all healthcare workers in the public and private sectors will be prioritised for vaccination,” Ramaphosa said.

The president said the vaccines would be rolled in phases.

“Provincial health departments have submitted their distribution plans and we have identified about 200 facilities to which the vaccines can be distributed. Once we have completed the vaccination of healthcare workers, we will move to Phase 2 of the national vaccine strategy, which will include essential workers, people over 60 years, people with co-morbidities as well as those living in places such as nursing homes and hostels. In Phase 3, we will extend the vaccination programme to the rest of the adult population.”

The president further announced the lifting of the following restrictions, citing the “clear decline in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths”.

The hours of the curfew will now be from 11pm to 4am.

Establishments will need to close by 10pm to allow their customers and staff to return home by curfew.

Faith-based gatherings will be permitted, subject to health protocols.

Such gatherings may not exceed 50 people for indoor venues and 100 persons for outdoor venues. Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used.

Public places such as beaches, dams, rivers, parks and public swimming pools will be reopened subject to health protocols.

Restrictions on the sale of alcohol will be eased.

The sale of alcohol by licensed premises for off-site consumption will be permitted from Mondays to Thursdays, from 10am to 6pm.

Duty-free shops, registered wineries, wine farms, micro-breweries and micro-distilleries will be able to sell alcohol for off-site consumption during their normal licensed operating hours.

The sale of alcohol by licensed premises for on-site consumption – such as restaurants and taverns – will be permitted throughout the week from 10am to 10pm.

Ramaphosa added that:

In addition to the 1 million Covishield doses that we received today; we expect another 500 000 doses from the Serum Institute of India to arrive later in February.”

We have secured 12 million doses in total from the global Covax facility, which has indicated that it will release approximately 2 million doses by March.

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.

In addition, Pfizer has committed 20 million vaccine doses commencing with deliveries in the second quarter.

We are in advanced negotiations with manufacturers to secure additional supplies.

South Africa will also receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union, which has been negotiating with manufacturers to secure vaccines for the entire continent on a pooled basis.

Through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union, we have to date secured 1 billion vaccines for the entire continent.

Seven hundred million of these will come from the global Covax facility and 300 million have been facilitated by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

We will be getting other vaccines that will be donated by various private sector companies to add to the vaccines that our continent needs.

Pretoria News