It has been the most unusual and disorientating year, something that we can only hope isn’t repeated. If we are to see a gradual return to whatever our “new normal” will look like next year, it will be highly dependent on the success of a vaccine programme against Covid-19.
Internationally, there has been promising news with the UK beginning the biggest vaccine programme in that country’s history, with a 90-year old grandmother becoming the first person to receive it this week. It couldn’t have come any earlier for Europe and the US, who are in the deep throes of yet another wave of the pandemic with record daily deaths in their winter season.
South Africa’s economy has been one of the most harshly affected by the coronavirus and we need to ensure that we are among the countries first in line for a global vaccine rollout. With more than 22,000 people having already lost their lives to the virus and more deaths expected with a second wave of infections in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, a vaccine breakthrough is critical for us – and soon.
Without a vaccine, we face a much more crippling third wave in the second quarter of next year as we head into our winter period.
With our economy contracting more than 7% this year and inequality and unemployment rising as a consequence, whatever we can do in partnership with government and other social partners to ensure we don’t experience another long and deep winter must be done.
The Department of Health expects to take first delivery of coronavirus vaccines by the middle of next year after agreeing on an initial payment. There’s a deposit to the tune of R327m to take delivery of the vaccines under the Covax initiative, which is backed by the World Health Organisation and aims to give lower-income countries the same access to vaccines as wealthier nations.
In this pursuit, the Solidarity Fund has been in regular contact with the department and Minister Zweli Mkhize. The fund is putting up the deposit and National Treasury is providing the guarantees needed to secure South Africa a place in the programme.
Overall, the cost of the vaccine programme is expected to be in the region of R2bn. Being part of the programme gives us first access with the other countries participating in the biggest vaccine programme. It includes nine vaccines and a further nine in development.
It’s expected that we’ll get vaccines for around 15% of the South African population. There’s also commitment that the state and the private sector will secure additional vaccines through bilateral arrangements with vaccine providers for the remainder of the population.
While I guess we can all find some fault with the response to the Covid-19 fallout through the course of the year, the co-ordination between the Department of Health and the private sector may just be the blueprint for future cooperation that we need for our economic recovery. By ensuring South Africa remains in the front of the line of nations in the disbursement of the vaccine, the teamwork will put the country on a much more secure footing.
There’s a lot riding on a successful vaccine programme in the country and all spheres of society are invested in it. Last week, retailers Pick ‘n Pay and Shoprite were quoted in the media as being ready to help with the national rollout through their store networks.
Covid-19 threatens all efforts first to stabilise the economy and then to begin what will be a hard climb to rebuilding confidence among everyday South Africans and businesses.
For a tourist sector that has been bludgeoned by its effects, the surge in coronavirus cases in some districts just as millions of people prepare to travel to their home towns and holiday destinations during the festive season could spell disaster. There are lingering fears that if there’s a continued rise in infections, it just may warrant harsher lockdown measures.
Our partner organisation, Business For South Africa, has warned that if the country moves back to Level 3, the country could shed 200,000 more jobs. It would see GDP contract by 10.6%.
Another year living with the spectre of hard lockdowns will be hard to stomach for many South Africans, who for the most part have handled a most “extraordinary” year well. In hopes for a better year, we need the vaccine sourced and rolled out as soon as possible. It’s the most important stimulant to the economy going into 2021, closely followed by a secure energy supply from Eskom.
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