S.Africa passes second wave peak as first vaccines land
Workers load a wood coffin onto a truck at the Enzo Wood Designs manufacturing facility in Johannesburg, South Africa, on January 20, 2021. Casket and coffin manufacturers in South Africa are experiencing an increase in demand due to the high number of registered deaths caused by COVID-19. (Guillem Sartorio / AFP)
(AFP) - South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said the country had "passed the peak" of its second coronavirus infection wave, allowing for the easing of restrictions ahead of first vaccinations this month.
The country hit hardest in Africa had earlier taken delivery of its first shipment of coronavirus shots, paving the way to the first phase of inoculation.
Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation that that "first good news" of the day was accompanied by a promising drop in infections.
"The average rate of new infections has been steadily coming down over the last three weeks, indicating that we have now passed the peak of the second wave," the president announced.
South Africa's new daily cases had dropped to an average of around 5,500 from just over 10,000 in the previous week, he said.
Hospital admissions have also dropped significantly, prompting the government to ease restrictions on the sale of alcohol at shops and restaurants, meant to ease pressure on emergency wards.
A night-time curfew has also been pushed back to 11 pm and faith-based gatherings are again permitted under certain conditions.
- 'No stone unturned' -
Ramaphosa spoke a few hours after receiving one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, at Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo airport, with another 500,000 expected later this month.
Health workers will be first in line when inoculations begin in around two weeks, after the vaccines go through quarantine, regulatory and quality-control procedures.
With almost 1.5 million detected infections and more than 44,000 fatalities, South Africa still has the highest number of cases and deaths on the continent.
Authorities plan to vaccinate at least 67 percent of the population, or 40 million people, by year's end.
Ramaphosa vowed to "leave no stone unturned" and secure enough shots to reach herd immunity.
He said vaccines would be available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of citizenship, but stressed that "nobody will be forced" to take it.
"The arrival of these vaccines contains the promise that we can turn the tide on this disease," he added.
The government, which has been accused of being slow to acquire Covid vaccines, announced at the weekend that it had secured an additional 20 million doses -- this time of the Pfizer/BioNTech formula.
The new Pfizer order will complement 12 million vaccine doses from the WHO-backed Covax facility, nine million Johnson & Johnson shots and 1.5 million AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines -- pushing the total supply secured so far to over 40 million.
Further allocations from the African Union (AU) are yet to be announced.
- African prospects -
The outbreak in South Africa, the continent's most industrialised economy, has been accelerated by a new variant said to be more contagious than earlier strains of the virus and more resistant to existing vaccines.
That variant has been detected in a rising number of countries both within and outside the continent.
Africa had weathered much of the worst of the first wave of the pandemic, but recently numbers have been rising fast, with 3.6 million cases and 91,000 deaths reported as of Monday.
So far only a few African countries have started immunisation campaigns, including the Seychelles and Mauritius and more recently Morocco and Algeria.
It is estimated the continent will need 1.5 billion vaccine doses to immunise 60 percent of its 1.3 billion inhabitants, costing between $7 and $10 billion.
The AU has secured a total of 670 million doses for its member states, according to a tally from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Thursday.
African countries have also been promised at least 600 million doses from Covax, the globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort coordinated by the World Health Organisation.
© Agence France-Presse