JOHANNESBURG – The South African president has brought rare good news to the people in the continent’s coronavirus hotspot: the country’s second wave appears to be subsiding, and the government is about to launch a vaccination campaign for health workers.
The Monday address, broadcast live on national television, was a departure from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s usual tone. For nearly a year, Ramaphosa has been the bearer of grim news of deaths, rising numbers of cases, and strained hospitals, lockdowns and restrictions, and endless memories, like a blaming father reminding people to wear your mask and close your hands to wash.
South Africa is the continent’s viral hotspot, with 1.4 million confirmed cases and more than 44,000 COVID-19 deaths since the virus hit in March. The nation saw the start of a second wave of the virus in late December with a new variant that is significantly more contagious.
FILE – Family members and Saaberie Chishty Society volunteers lower the body of a COVID-19 victim to a grave at Avalon Cemetery in Lenasia, South Africa on Jan. 4, 2021.
But this week a glimmer of hope: on the previous Monday, the President and top ministers stood on the sodden asphalt of Johannesburg airport to greet the arrival of 1 million doses of vaccine. Ramaphosa said they will find their way into the arms of the frontline health workers in the next two weeks. Then, according to Ramaphosa, the country will vaccinate 40 million people – about 67 percent of the population – by the end of the year. He stressed that no one would be required to take the vaccine.
He spoke live on national television late Monday.
“With South Africans, the first good news is the arrival of the vaccine today,” he said. “The second is that we have had our lowest daily increase in infections. In fact, since the beginning of December last year, the average rate of new infections has steadily declined for the past three weeks, indicating that we have now passed the peak of the second wave. ”
Workers load South Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine when they arrive at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg on February 1, 2021. (Elmond Jiyane for GCIS / Handout via Reuters)
South Africa will be the fifth African nation to introduce mass vaccination, after Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles and Guinea. Ramaphosa also said that in his role as chairman of the African Union, he was working to ensure the delivery of one billion vaccines to the African continent.
“Seven hundred million of these will be provided through the global COVAX facility, and 300 million will be provided by the African team to procure vaccines. We will get other vaccines donated by various private sector companies to complement the vaccines our continent needs, ”the president said.
Ramaphosa, as the only African leader of the G-20, has publicly exhorted rich nations to share vaccines fairly.
FILE – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities in Johannesburg.
Ramaphosa also announced that its government would ease current COVID-19 restrictions, including easing the overnight curfew and resuming alcohol sales. But, he warned, that doesn’t mean South Africa should breathe a sigh of relief – not yet.
“Let us remember that despite the significant progress we have made, the number of new cases is still high and the risk of recurrence is pervasive,” he said. “It is therefore necessary to keep the country on coronavirus alert level three, which indicates the persistently high risk of transmission.”