SA ramps up vaccine drive

The worst is yet to come as the fast-moving third wave continues to gain speed and new ground, the World Health Organisation says.

12 July 2021 | International

NAMPA/AP

JOHANNESBURG

Some in wheelchairs, others on canes, hundreds of South Africans waited recently on the ramps of an open-air Johannesburg parking garage to get their Covid-19 vaccine shots. Despite the masks, social distancing and blustery weather of the Southern Hemisphere winter, a celebratory atmosphere took hold.

“What a relief!' said Vincent Damon, a 63-year-old electrical technician, after getting his second dose. “In the last four days, I've lost four friends. All of them under 60. This pandemic has gotten worse. It's frightening."

New infections in South Africa rose to record levels in recent days, part of a rapid rise across the continent, and experts say the surge here hasn't yet peaked. To fight the new wave, South Africa reimposed several restrictions, including shutting restaurants and bars and limiting alcohol sales - and its vaccination drive is finding its feet after several stumbles.

But even as the campaign gathers pace, experts say it's too late to reduce the deadly impact of the current spike. Instead, South Africa is now rushing to vaccinate enough of its 60 million people to blunt the impact of the next inevitable surge.

Too little, too late

“Our vaccination campaign is gathering momentum, but obviously it's too late to do much in terms of reducing the impact of this current resurgence we're experiencing, which by all accounts is going to completely dwarf what we experienced either in the first or second waves in South Africa,' said Shabir Madhi, dean of health sciences and professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand.

South Africa accounts for more than 35% of the 5.8 million cases recorded by Africa's 54 countries, although it is home to just over 4% of the continent's population. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in the country more than doubled over the past two weeks to more than 360 fatalities per day on July 9.

Its troubles reflect a broader trend. Neighbouring Zimbabwe went back into lockdown on 6 July, and Congo, Rwanda, Senegal and Zambia are among the 16 African countries battling the new surge of infections sweeping across the continent.

Worse is to come

“Africa has just marked the continent's most dire pandemic week ever. But the worst is yet to come as the fast-moving third wave continues to gain speed and new ground,' said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation's regional director for Africa.

“The end to this precipitous rise is still weeks away. Cases are doubling now every 18 days, compared with every 21 days only a week ago," she added Thursday.

The current upsurge comes while the continent's vaccination rates are painfully low: Just 16 million, or less than 2%, of Africa's 1.3 billion people are now fully vaccinated, according to the WHO.

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