South Africa steps up preparations for phase two of vaccination programme

Ramaphosa says country is moving to more relaxed lockdown restrictions due to ‘dramatic decline’ in cases over eight weeks

A  delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arriving  at  O R Tambo  airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photograph:  EPA/Kim Ludbrook

A delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arriving at O R Tambo airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photograph: EPA/Kim Ludbrook

 

South Africa’s government is stepping up preparations for phase two of its nationwide coronavirus vaccination programme after president Cyril Ramaphosa said he was satisfied with the initiative’s rollout over its first 10 days.

Addressing the nation on Sunday, Mr Ramaphosa expressed confidence that enough vaccines had been secured to begin this expanded phase of inoculations by “late April, early May”.

Phase one of the Covid-19 vaccination programme has focused solely on the country’s 1.25 million health workers. Its second stage will include the elderly, essential workers, and people with co-morbidities.

“Since we launched our coronavirus vaccination programme [on February 17th] more than 67,000 health workers have been vaccinated. A new batch of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in the country yesterday, and we are steadily increasing the doses we are administering,” he said.

Mr Ramaphosa said an agreement with Johnson & Johnson would see a further 11 million doses of the one-shot vaccine arriving in the country in 2021, of which 2.8 million were due for delivery between April and June.

In addition, 20 million Pfizer doses are due in the second quarter, and South Africa is also finalising arrangements to receive 12 million doses via the developing world’s Covax facility, said Mr Ramaphosa.

South Africa wants to vaccinate 60 per cent of its 60 million population to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19. Health minister Zweli Mkhize said last week the government hoped that 1.1 million people would be vaccinated by the end of March.

Over the coming month the country’s vaccination sites nationally will increase from 17 to 49, of which 32 will be in public hospitals and 17 in private facilities.

Significant progress

Sunday’s update by Mr Ramaphosa is being viewed as significant progress by many South Africans as only two weeks ago the government’s AstraZeneca vaccination programme was halted after a study showed it had limited efficacy against the local Covid-19 variant.

The one million AstraZeneca doses South Africa received on February 1st have now been offered to the African Union for distribution to member states that are not struggling with the South African Covid-19 variant.

Mr Ramaphosa also announced that the country is moving to level one of its five-stage risk-adjusted lockdown strategy from Monday as there has been a “dramatic decline in cases over the past eight weeks”.

In the last week of February South Africa saw just under 10,000 new infections nationwide. During the same week in January 40,000 new cases were recorded, while its December equivalent was close to 90,000 new cases.

Level one of the lockdown will see most restrictions relaxed considerably so the beleaguered economy can be revived.

The infection rate’s decline was attributed by Mr Ramaphosa to new public health measures, behavioural changes among South Africans, growing levels of immunity to Covid-19 and people’s adherence to lockdown regulations.