The DA is heartened by the news that the Western Cape government is working pro-actively to expedite access to a Covid-19 vaccine in that province. We call on National government to follow our lead and do the same.

More than ever before, the time has come for South Africa’s government to put the people first and to urgently secure a bi-lateral deal to expedite the arrival of the vaccine to our shores. Waiting for the second quarter next year is not good enough, and even then, the number of initial vaccines on offer will only cover 10% of the population.

Other nations have been able to do this. Why can’t we? The nation of Colombia, a country with almost identical socio-economic circumstances as South Africa has managed to immediately source a Covid-19 vaccine and has secured 9 million doses.

Despite being part of the World Health Organisation’s COVAX programme, Colombia has realised the obvious delays and shortcomings of this initiative and thus opted for a bi-lateral approach to swiftly secure the vaccine for its citizens. 

The longer this ANC government delays access to a Covid-19 vaccine, the more lives and livelihoods our country will lose to this virus. 

The South African government is solely responsible for this life-threatening delay in access to a Covid-19 vaccine. Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, Shabir Madhi, recently stated: “Being involved in the clinical development of the vaccines should have placed us in an advantageous position to gain early access. Seemingly we have not exploited this opportunity. We’re in a difficult position in terms of being able to get vaccines within the course of 2021”. 

Like many other emerging economies, South Africa needs to opt for this route. We have put together a 6-point action plan to ensure that access to a Covid-19 vaccine for all South Africans is fast tracked so that our country and its people can get back on their feet.

The DA proposes the following

  1. That government urgently begins bi-lateral negotiations, as many other countries have done, with approved vaccine suppliers in order to gain expedited access to a vaccine for South Africans. If only to secure enough, at this stage, for frontline healthcare workers, teachers and frontline responders, and the most vulnerable members of society, including older persons. The steps taken in this regard must be shared with the National Assembly to ensure sufficient oversight and accountability;
  2. That the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority is able to complete their required vaccine approval as efficiently as possible;
  3. That government determine, in detail, how many doses of the vaccine are necessary to inoculate the entire population and make the necessary financial provisions for this procurement. According to our estimates, at $10,22 per vaccine, it would cost R9,5 billion to cover 50% of the population. Thus, National Treasury must urgently reappropriate approximately R20 billion to ensure that the entire nation can be vaccinated against Covid-19; 
  4. That government provide a definite timeline in relation to the COVAX participation, the date the vaccines will be here, how many doses will be arriving and how they are to be allocated;
  5. That government begin this week to develop a roll-out strategy to, as quickly as possible administer the vaccine to citizens who require it, and identify which facilities will be used to store and administer the vaccine; and
  6. Ensure that the procurement of syringes, needles, swabs, fridges, and other associated ancillary requirements for the administering of the vaccine is undertaken. This must be conducted with transparency and accountability to prevent the corruption witnessed in the first round of PPE procurement.

In addition to this, government must begin a process of identifying the worst-affected industries from lockdown to establish targeted relief programmes so that strategic and important sectors of our economy can be protected and jobs retained. Blanket bans, closures, and restrictions cannot be enforced unless all relevant stakeholders are consulted and the necessary relief is provided during this time. 

A vaccine is now the only solution, and the only alternative to lockdown which is no longer a viable or sustainable means to curb the spread of the virus in our country. It is the only path for us to return to some form of normality. The new year has to bring new resolve to combat Covid-19. We need to save the lives of the citizens and give our economy a fighting chance to begin the long road to some form of recovery.

2020 saw the South African economy suffer devastating losses after almost a year of crippling restrictions in one of the hardest and longest lockdowns in the world. The last year also saw excessive growth in unemployment numbers as the lockdowns shut down many sectors of the economy.

The only efficacy lockdowns have is to provide time for an adequate healthcare capacity to be developed to deal with the inevitable rise in cases once the lockdown ends. It is clear that this healthcare capacity was not built up. This leaves lockdown as the only tool government has in its arsenal to combat Covid-19. This is no longer sustainable as we begin a new year.

The time has now come to marshal the resources of the country to combat Covid-19 sustainably and decisively. This is going to require some tough choices to be made and a strong resolve required to win the war against the virus, save as many citizens as possible, and keep the economy moving.

We furthermore believe that the time has now come for Parliament to step up to its responsibility through the creation of an ad-hoc committee of the National Assembly to now deal specifically with the vaccine rollout programme in South Africa. This will ensure that the people’s elected representatives are able to receive regular reports on this process, interrogate progress, and exercise oversight to ensure that it is not botched more than it has already been.

The new year must bring new resolve to combat Covid-19, we simply cannot remain in indefinite lockdown.

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John Steenhuisen

John Steenhuisen is federal leader of the Democratic Alliance, opposition party of the Republic of South Africa.

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