Ramaphosa prioritizes recovery, vaccinations in speech to parliament
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged support for his government’s efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as it struggles to implement a vaccination program and an economic recovery plan.
South Africa this week halted the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to start inoculating front-line healthcare workers after it was found to be minimally effective in preventing mild to moderate cases of the disease caused by the variant dominant in this country.
Instead, the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be given to healthcare workers to launch South Africa’s drive to vaccinate 67% of its population of 60 million this year.
The rollout of the vaccines is expected to start next week pending approval from the country’s South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.
“We have secured 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The first batch of 80,000 doses will arrive in the country next week,“ Ramaphosa, delivering his State of the Nation Address to parliament in Cape Town Thursday night.
He said further deliveries would be made over the next four weeks, reaching a total of 500,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Ramaphosa did not say what South Africa intends to do with the 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it has purchased, following its decision not to use it to inoculate front-line healthcare workers.
The pandemic has taken a toll on South Africa’s economy, with approximately 2 million jobs lost since the virus outbreak began last year and the country’s economy is forecast to decline by more than 7.2% this year.
South Africa’s unemployment rate is now at 30.8%, increasing the number of people reliant on government welfare grants that are already supporting more than 16 million of the country’s poorest.
Despite the economic difficulties, South Africa has received investment pledges of $53 billion since he came to power in 2019, he said.
South Africa’s economy is hampered by persistent and pervasive power cuts because the state-owned electricity utility, Eskom, cannot provide adequate power to meet the country’s needs. Ramaphosa said his government is working to increase the power company’s capacity to generate electricity and to procure more energy from independent power producers.
He also vowed to deal with rampant corruption, specifically allegations related to the government’s procurement of personal protective equipment to protect health workers from COVID-19.
The country’s Special Investigating Unit recently reported that it is investigating suspected fraud in 164 contracts worth $238 million, nearly half of the country’s budget for COVID-19 supplies.
Opposition parties criticized Ramaphosa’s address, saying he failed to announce concrete plans to deal with the country’s challenges.
“He showed complete failure to deal with the electricity crisis and said nothing new on job creation,” official opposition leader John Steenhuisen told the public broadcaster SABC.
Economic Freedom Fighters deputy president Floyd Shivambu said investment commitments Ramaphosa referred to would not make any difference in the country’s economy following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.