Vaccination must replace lockdown if SA is to survive Covid-19

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement this evening in which he has returned the country to Lockdown Level 3.

Aside from this announcement and its regulations, there is one crucial, and pivotal point to which President Ramaphosa has still neglected to speak with clarity and certainty: the acquisition and provision of the readily available coronavirus vaccine.

We understand that the resurgence in Covid-19 cases is dire for our country, but we knew at the beginning of this crisis that we would be grappling with the virus for 18 to 24 months. We now need to stock our arsenal with a finite solution to address this pandemic decisively and sustainably.

President Ramaphosa initially said that we would receive the coronavirus vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. This goalpost has now been shifted to quarter 2. This indecision and dithering only proves that government has dropped the ball completely on a vaccine that should have been rolled out weeks ago.

Lockdowns and bans are not a sustainable solution. They may offer extremely short-term efficacy, but they do very deep and long-lasting damage to the economy and to the livelihoods of our citizens. Poverty is the biggest killer in our country and government has to have more in its arsenal than just shutdowns and bans. There needs to be a simultaneous plan to massively improve public healthcare and get urgent access to a vaccine to begin a comprehensive roll out.

President Ramaphosa must come clean on the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine as a matter of urgency. South Africa does not need a task team for this acute need in our country, we need to know which vaccine has been approved, the date of its arrival and what the plan is for a swift roll-out. Furthermore, we need to know which South Africans will be prioritised, and we need to know whether regulatory bodies are dragging their feet to approve this groundbreaking medical development.

The truth of the matter is that while South Africa was banning the sale of cooked food and tobacco products and telling South Africans what they could wear, other governments were hard at work procuring and preparing roll-out plans for one of the four available Covid-19 vaccines.

 The vaccination rollout is continuing apace across the EU and UK. In countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico, where the socio-economic circumstances are not dissimilar to our own, vaccines are already being rolled out nationwide at great pace. The South African government has no excuse for its negligence in this regard and owes South Africans an explanation.

South Africa has now missed two payment deadlines for the first batch of the World Health Organisation’s vaccination programme, delaying the arrival of the vaccine to our shores. How many lives could have been saved had this process not been completely and utterly bungled?

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 and to give our economy a fighting chance at some form of recovery. The South African economy has suffered devastating losses after almost a year of crippling lockdown restrictions. It cannot endure any more.  

We are losing the fight to protect both lives and livelihoods. Instead of our people and their jobs surviving this pandemic, neither will emerge from it. There can be nothing more devastating for our country.

President Ramaphosa and his government must expedite the procurement and roll out of the coronavirus vaccine as a matter of urgency. Nothing is more important for the wellbeing of our nation and our economy at this time.

It is also unconscionable that the Government would seek to simply shut down certain industries without simultaneously announcing a single cent of relief programmes to bridge the economic devastation that this will wreak on the hospitality and restaurant industries.

If the President is as serious as he wanted to come across this evening about this response to the second wave, then a good place would be for his government to lead by example. Cancel the SAA bailout and put that money towards expediting vaccine procurement and rollout and bolstering financial relief to affected industries.

This would show true commitment to saving lives and livelihoods.