Government’s vaccine failure means a third wave is inevitable

No matter how the president spins it, South Africans have been badly let down by an incapable state that has neither the ability nor the will to protect lives and livelihoods. That the first vaccines only arrived on our shores today is a failure, not an achievement.

With no significant vaccine arrivals until May and the bulk of what we can expect this year only arriving towards the end of the year, we find ourselves staring at a third wave come winter and with it another lockdown. But we have come to expect so little from the ANC that the arrival midst much fanfare, two months late, of vaccines for just 0.8% of the population is seen as a good news story.

While other countries with comparable economies are already administering hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 vaccines per day, South Africa is yet to administer a single dose. The fact is government has spent more effort and taxpayer money keeping people off the beach than procuring lifesaving vaccines for them.

Government’s repeated promises of reaching herd immunity this year are therefore a pipedream born of lazy analysis, wishful thinking and political spin. Nothing could show more clearly how out of touch with reality our government is.

With only enough vaccines arriving this year for 15 to 18 million people – and the bulk of these in the second half of the year, it is unlikely we’ll vaccinate even a third of the number required for herd immunity.

For all its talk, government is yet to deliver an explicit, comprehensive procurement and rollout plan. Which is why the DA has taken legal action to force government to communicate and commit to a detailed plan, based on people’s constitutional right to access healthcare services. This will enable civil society to contribute in a meaningful way, to monitor government’s performance, and hold them accountable.

We cannot afford to give government the benefit of the doubt. And we cannot afford the vaccine programme to be sabotaged by politically connected elites, under the guise of “transformation”, as we saw with PPE procurement. We need to know that experienced, reputable companies are handling distribution.

Nor can we afford for the vaccine rollout to be used as a bargaining chip in ANC factional battles. That can surely be the only explanation for the president’s appointment of the useless, corrupt DD Mabuza to lead it.

Let’s be clear here. Humanity is in a race against this virus. We need vaccines delivered at a pace that will outrun mutations. Already, the 501Y.V2 variant is proving more resistant to the current vaccines.

More than ever, this underscores the need for government to prioritise vaccines as a high-impact intervention and place far more trust in the private sector to assist in rolling them out, since this is where the capability resides.

It also underscores the fact that no price is too high to get vaccines rolled out, since a swift rollout will save lives, enable us to open our economy, and reduce the chances of mutations.

Nonetheless, we need to be realistic and accept that we will be running this race against the virus for a very long time to come. So it is crucial that we vaccinate our front line healthcare workers and those most vulnerable to Covid as a matter of urgency.

It is also crucial that we do everything possible now to protect our economy from further damage. It would be economic suicide to delay reforms any longer, and we certainly cannot afford to waste any more precious resources on trivial, petty bans that have a minor effect on the pandemic but do major long-term damage to the economy.

Therefore, the DA welcomes the lifting of the nonsensical beach ban and the easing of alcohol restrictions and curfew. However, these come too late to save hundreds of thousands of jobs and businesses in the tourism, restaurant and alcohol industries, which have been needlessly destroyed by our indiscriminate state. ANC politicians should pay with their jobs.

We call for the curfew to be lifted completely. Freedom of movement is a basic civil liberty and there is absolutely no justification for denying it. Those restaurants that haven’t yet shut shop need all the trading hours they can get.

Government is the weakest link in SA. It needs to get its own house in order and free the private sector to contribute to its fullest potential in saving both lives and livelihoods.