As Covid-19 cases surge, SA expands vaccine programme

By S’thembile Cele and Antony Sguazzin

(Bloomberg) – South Africa is expanding its coronavirus-inoculation programme as the pace of vaccine deliveries accelerates, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said.

Health authorities received 1.5 million J&J vaccines over the past week, and are expecting a further 2.1 million Pfizer shots to be delivered next month, Kubayi-Ngubane said in a virtual briefing on Friday. The government will also open up registrations for people aged 50 and older and will begin inoculating that group from July 15, she said.

“With the anticipated flow of vaccines to come, we are now confident that we will be building towards that 300,000 daily mark target that the president has set for us,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.

South Africa vaccinated a record 115,000 people on Thursday amid a third wave of coronavirus cases that have been concentrated in the commercial hub of Gauteng province. The country recorded 16,078 new infections on Thursday.

The government has been criticised for the slow pace of its vaccine rollout, the main part of which only began last month. Of the 40 million people it estimates it needs to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity, just 2.55 million have received a dose of vaccine.

The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party plans to hold a protest on Friday to demand that the health-products regulator immediately approve the use of Covid-19 vaccines from Russia and China. The regulator has said it’s currently evaluating the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China as well as Russia’s Sputnik V shot.

Gauteng, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is expected to hit the peak of the third wave of infections in the first week of July, according to modelling prepared for the provincial government.

While an unexpected surge to a record 10,870 daily infections on Wednesday may portend a worse outcome, data to date show the province will likely have about 65,000 active cases from June 29 to July 9 before they begin to decline, a presentation by Bruce Mellado, a member of Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s advisory committee, showed.

While the surge in infections in Gauteng is slowing, with a 44% increase last week compared with 74% two weeks earlier, the impact has led to calls for tighter curbs on movement and alcohol sales even as some experts say the government has left it too late. The province is home to one in four South Africans and more than 60% of daily new infections nationally. Gauteng accounts for 40% of the South African economy.

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