Top South Africa Court Sets Date For Zuma Contempt Case

In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018 former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in the dock of the High Court of Pietermaritzburg during his hearing over 16 corruption charges. Phill MAGAKOE / POOL / AFP

 

South Africa’s top court said Monday it will hear a contempt case against beleaguered ex-president Jacob Zuma on March 25 after he defied its order to testify in a corruption hearing.

Zuma, accused of enabling runaway graft during his tenure in office, defied a Constitutional Court order to testify before a panel investigating graft allegations.

The commission last week asked the court to jail Zuma for two years after the 78-year-old “intentionally and unlawfully failed to appear” last month or to supply affidavits.

Zuma must file answering affidavits, if any, by March 8, the court said in a statement.

Meanwhile the contempt hearing itself “will take place on a virtual platform,” it said.

A defiant Zuma has played cat-and-mouse with the panel investigating the plunder of state coffers during his rule, claiming bias on the part of its chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The former leader testified only once in July 2019 before staging a walkout days later.

On January 28, the Constitutional Court ordered him to appear before the commission and ruled he had no right to remain silent during the proceedings.

The court said his snubs amounted to “a direct breach of the law”.

But Zuma has pushed back, alleging political interference in the judiciary, and vowed not to appear before the commission.

He added that he did not fear being arrested, convicted or jailed.

Zuma, who came to power in 2009, was forced to resign in 2018 over graft scandals involving an Indian business family, the Guptas — who won lucrative contracts with state companies and were allegedly even able to choose cabinet ministers.

AFP

COVID-19: South Africa Aims To Vaccinate One Million By End Of March

Doctor Anike Baptiste (L) receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus from Mokgadi Malebye, a professional nurse, as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria on February 17, 2021.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

South Africa is targeting an ambitious plan to vaccinate one million people against Covid-19 by the end of March after a late start to its inoculation campaign, the country’s health minister said Thursday.

So far around 32,000 healthcare workers have received vaccinations developed by US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson since February 17, when the rollout began with a first batch of 80,000 doses.

The country, which was slow to join in the global jostle for vaccines, hopes to take delivery of another 500,000 doses from Johnson & Johnson in the coming days.

Thereafter, a consignment of 600,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will follow.

“This will be able to get over 1.1 million people vaccinated between now and hopefully the end of March,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told lawmakers.

That will cover most of the country’s healthcare workers.

READ ALSO: Johnson & Johnson’s Single Shot COVID-19 Vaccine Highly Effective, Says US Regulator

Africa’s hardest-hit nation by the pandemic suffered a setback after it decided against administering one million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula it received on February 1, citing concerns over whether it protected against a widespread virus variant that emerged in the country.

 

Relatives observe undertakers unloading a casket containing the remains of a COVID-19 coronavirus patient during a funeral at the Avalon cemetery in Soweto, on July 24, 2020. Michele Spatari / AFP

 

Most of the large supplies of vaccines are expected to start flowing in from April to June, the minister said, noting the government was banking on bilateral negotiations to fill its deficit of doses.

On Wednesday, the government announced plans to allocate $688 million for vaccines.

South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, aims to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of 2021.

It has already committed to deals for nine million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 12 million doses from the Covax facility and 20 million from Pfizer.

Mkhize said “a lot of work” was being done to acquire Russia’s Sputnik vaccine and Sinopharm from China.

Discussions are also ongoing for the purchase of jabs from US biotech firm Moderna, which said Wednesday it was ready to start test its new vaccine candidate aimed at the coronavirus variant identified in South Africa.

South Africa has recorded more than 1.5 million virus cases of which nearly 50,000 have been fatal.

AFP

Jacob Zuma’s Arms Deal Corruption Case To Be Heard In May

In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018 former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in the dock of the High Court of Pietermaritzburg during his hearing over 16 corruption charges. Former South African president Jacob Zuma must pay back state funds and cover his own costs, a court ruled on December 13, 2018, leaving him facing massive legal bills as he fights graft charges.
Phill MAGAKOE / POOL / AFP

 

 

South Africa’s scandal-tainted former president Jacob Zuma and French arms giant Thales, accused of graft in a case going back more than two decades, will go on trial in May, the High Court ruled Tuesday.

Zuma is facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 30-billion-rand ($2-billion /  1.67-billion-euro) purchase in 1999 of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from five European arms companies.

He allegedly took bribes amounting to four million rand ($270,000 or 224,000 euros) from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales at the time when he was deputy president.

Judge Nkosinathi Chili at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg said the matter was certified as trial-ready and would be heard between May 17 and June 20, 2021.

Zuma was not present for the announcement.

The case was postponed last December, when Thales contested the racketeering charges linked to the arms deal.

But a court dismissed the challenge on January 22, a decision that Thales said it would not contest.

Both the state prosecution and defence attorneys had asked the pre-trial court for extra time.

They cited among other things Covid restrictions on international travel that could impede the availability of witnesses living abroad.

Zuma, 78, who was forced to step down in 2018 by the African National Congress (ANC) after nine years in power, is separately accused of enabling runaway looting of state assets during his tenure.

The judicial panel probing this alleged graft on Monday sought orders to jail Zuma for two years for defying a court order compelling him to testify.

The embattled ex-leader has repeatedly snubbed summonses by the commission, saying its chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, is biased.

He testified only once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout days later.

The findings of the anti-corruption commission will not lead directly to indictments but may be handed to the prosecution for possible charges.

-AFP

Unemployment Rise Leaves Nearly A Third Out Of Work In South Africa

Jetro Gonese and his braille typewriter. South Africa's anti-coronavirus lockdown has had a devastating impact on the visually impaired Luca Sola AFP
Jetro Gonese and his braille typewriter. South Africa’s anti-coronavirus lockdown has had a devastating impact on the visually impaired Luca Sola AFP

 

 

South African unemployment reached 32.5 percent of the workforce between October and December 2020, the national statistics agency said Tuesday, the highest level since record-keeping began in 2008.

The number of unemployed people increased “by 701,000 to 7.2 million compared to the third quarter of 2020,” a Stats SA statement said.

“The movement… resulted in a significant increase of 1.7 percentage points in the official unemployment rate to 32.5 percent,” it added.

South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, was already in recession when the coronavirus pandemic hit last March.

Months of rolling restrictions to stem the virus have stifled economic activity and bled tens of thousands of jobs.

Most of the latest unemployment increase was seen among workers aged between 25 and 34, followed by the 15-24 group.

Most job losses were observed in finance, community and social services, and manufacturing.

The 32.5 percent unemployment rate is the highest ever registered by South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey, surpassing the previous record of 30.8 percent in the third quarter of last year.

‘Getting worse’

Stats SA also said however that a benchmark of underlying joblessness that is not included in the official unemployment rate showed a slight fall.

The “expanded” unemployment rate, which includes people too discouraged to actively seek work, fell by half a percentage point to 42.6 percent at the end of 2020.

The joblessness figures reflect “the dire consequences of the strict COVID-19 lockdown measures” that “hurt business profitability and confidence, forcing companies to restructure their operations,” and lay off workers, Nedbank analysts said.

The figures were released on the eve of an annual national budget speech, during which the government details spending plans for the coming financial year.

Unions have planned strikes nationwide to protest stiffer economic challenges and job losses.

“The situation is getting worse,” said Frank Nxumalo, spokesman for the Federation of Union South Africa (FEDUSA).

“There are more people of working age who are unemployed than those employed, which means the labour market is not creating any jobs,” he noted.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that South Africa’s economy contracted by eight percent last year, and has forecast growth of just three percent for 2021.

Rwandan Opposition Activist Gunned Down In South Africa

 

A Rwandan opposition figure exiled in South Africa was on Sunday shot dead in Cape Town, his party said, calling the attack an “assassination”.

Seif Bamporiki, 49, who was the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) coordinator in South Africa, was killed as he delivered furniture in the crime-ridden township of Nyanga.

While the motive for his murder is still unclear, RNC spokesperson Etienne Mutabazi told AFP the method mirrored past politically-motivated attacks.

The killing “was executed in a similar modus operandi of luring the victim in a compromising and insecure environment for assassination,” he said.

Mutabazi was referring to past attacks on Rwandan dissidents in South Africa including ex-intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, whose body was found strangled in his room in a luxury hotel on January 1, 2014.

READ ALSO: Ugandan Soldiers Jailed For Assaulting Journalists

Bamporiki and his colleague from a pawn shop were accosted by two gun-toting assailants as they waited for a client who had disembarked from their vehicle to collect money to pay for a bed he had bought.

The client had “been looking for him for quite a while”, Mutabazi said. “Even on Saturday, that particular individual came to the shop and said only Bamporiki could serve him.”

The attackers made off with the activist’s pick-up truck and money, leaving his body on the ground.

No arrests have been made so far.

Another Rwandan exile, former general Kayumba Nyamwasa, survived two assassination attempts.

Pretoria described one of those, in June 2010 in South Africa, as an attack by foreign security operatives.

AFP

S.Africa’s Anti-Graft Panel Seeks Two-Year Jail For Zuma

Former South African President Jacob Zuma appears at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on June 23, 2020. - Former President Zuma stands accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from a 51 billion rand (3.4 billion US dollar) purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms, including French defence company Thales. (Photo by KIM LUDBROOK / POOL / AFP) / “The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by KIM LUDBROOK has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [on June 23, 2020] instead of [on June 22, 2020].
File photo: Former South African President Jacob Zuma appears at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on June 23, 2020.  (Photo by KIM LUDBROOK / POOL / AFP)

A judicial panel probing runaway graft on Monday asked South Africa’s top court to jail ex-president Jacob Zuma for two years for defying a court order compelling him to testify.

The 78-year-old had “intentionally and unlawfully failed to appear” on 15 to 19 February 2021 or to supply affidavits, the commission said as it filed an urgent application with the Constitutional Court.

Zuma has played cat-and-mouse with the commission since it was set up in 2018 to investigate the plunder of state coffers during his nine-year rule.

He has repeatedly snubbed summonses by the commission, claiming its chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is biased, and testified only once in July 2019 before staging a walkout days later.

In the latest showdown, Zuma refused to show up despite the Constitutional Court ordering him to do so.

The defiant Zuma said he did not fear being arrested, convicted or incarcerated.

In a 12-page statement last week, Zuma accused Zondo of “political propaganda.”

READ ALSO: Ugandan Soldiers Jailed For Assaulting Journalists

“Some judges… have assisted the incumbent president to hide from society what on the face of it seem to be bribes obtained in order to win an internal ANC election,” he added, without naming names.

Earlier on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa pushed back on attacks on the judiciary after Zuma accused judges of political bias.

He said such attacks, without evidence or being referred to relevant authorities, were “deeply disturbing” and could erode trust in the judiciary and constitutional order.

“We should… be concerned when those who occupy prominent positions in society make statements that demonstrate a disdain for the basic principles of our constitution and the institutions established to defend our democracy,” said Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter.

The president also said the attacks should not be taken lightly and warned those who make them of possible consequences.

There has been a growing push, including from within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), to compel the ex-leader to obey court orders.

The ANC’s top leadership is reportedly lining up a meeting with Zuma to resolve the impasse with the anti-graft commission.

On Tuesday he is due in court over a second, unrelated corruption case dating back more than 20 years, when he was deputy president.

In that case, he is accused of taking bribes of four million rand ($220,000/200,000 euros) in a $3.4-billion arms deal with French aerospace giant Thales.

Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 over mounting graft scandals.

AFP

One In Two South Africans Has Had COVID-19 According To Estimates

A boy wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the spred of the COVID-19 coronavirus as he queues outside Makro in Soweto, Johannesburg, on March 24, 2020. – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 23, 2020 announced a 21-day national lockdown to start later this week to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus which has affected more than 400 people and ordered the military to enforce the ban. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

 

 

Around half of South Africa’s population is thought to have contracted COVID-19, studies and statisticians say, suggesting the virus has claimed tens of thousands more lives than officially recorded.

The country worst hit by coronavirus in Africa has registered more than 140,000 excess natural deaths since May 2020, according to the South African Medical Research Council.

Leading private medical insurance Discovery estimates that around 90 percent of those fatalities are attributable to Covid-19, pushing the real death toll past 120,000.

Officially, South Africa has recorded close to 1.5 million coronavirus cases, of which just under 48,500 have been fatal.

But statisticians believe those figures are under-estimated.

Their findings are broadly consistent with coronavirus antibody surveys, which can detect whether a person has been infected with Covid-19 even after recovery.

A study released last week of almost 5,000 blood donors across four provinces found that between 32 and 63 percent of sampled individuals had contracted coronavirus since the pandemic started — compared with clinically confirmed case rates of two to three percent.

Most antibodies were detected in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, both epicentres of South Africa’s second infection wave when it started in December, one month before the study was conducted.

South Africa Launches Vaccine Drive, First To Administer J&J Shot

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) nurse Bhelekazi Mdlalose (L), 51, performs a swab test for COVID-19 coronavirus on a health worker at the Vlakfontein Clinic in Lenasia, Johannesburg, on May 13, 2020. Michele Spatari / AFP
File photo: Doctors Without Borders (MSF) nurse Bhelekazi Mdlalose (L), 51, performs a swab test for COVID-19 coronavirus on a health worker at the Vlakfontein Clinic in Lenasia, Johannesburg, on May 13, 2020. Michele Spatari / AFP

 

 

South Africa launched its long-awaited coronavirus vaccine campaign on Wednesday while also becoming the first country worldwide to administer inoculations by US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the first to be inoculated after the rollout was delayed earlier this month.

South Africa on February 1 received a million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula but decided against administering it over concerns of whether it would protect against a widespread variant.

It instead went with the vaccine by Johnson & Johnson as it bids to begin taming the pandemic in Africa’s hardest-hit nation.

A maternity nurse at a hospital in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town was the first to be immunised, hours after the first batch of 80,000 doses landed in the country from Brussels late Tuesday.

She looked relaxed as she received the jab, which was broadcast on live television.

After five healthcare workers got their jabs, it was Ramaphosa’s turn.

Before taking off his jacket and rolling up a long white shirt sleeve, he asked the nurse administering the jab if there would be any side effects.

“This day represents a real milestone for us as South Africans that finally the vaccines are here and they are being administered,” he said as he left the hospital to go to parliament.

Upbeat, he predicted the rollout would be “flawless.”

“This is a new era for us,” he said.

– Pfizer on the way –
South Africa took delivery of the new vaccines late Tuesday at an event that was closed to the press, in contrast to the fanfare two weeks ago when it received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs.

The new vaccines, only recently approved by the national health authorities, were rushed to 32 countrywide vaccination centres overnight.

Immunisations rolled into gear at several other centres including at one of Africa’s largest hospitals, Chris Hani Baragwanath, in Soweto township.

The stock is part of a consignment of nine million doses that South Africa secured from the US pharmaceutical giant.

The first doses will target healthcare workers as part of a study by the country’s medical research authority.

The country suspended its vaccine rollout after a study found the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa.

The Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine has been proven to be 57 effective against the variant, whose lab name is 501Y.V2.

It is however 66 percent effective against the original Covid-19 and up to 85 percent effective against serious forms of infection.

Those vaccines will be supplemented by 20 million doses of the Pfizer formula and more that will be secured through the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility and the African Union (AU).

– Healthcare ‘soldiers’ –
The government plans to immunise around 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population, by year’s end.

South Africa has recorded nearly 1.5 million coronavirus infections, including more than 48,000 deaths.

It is emerging from a second wave of infections — fuelled by the new strain of the virus — and has seen the number of daily new cases drop from highs of 20,000 in early January to slightly over 1,000 this week.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who was also vaccinated shortly after Ramaphosa, commended health workers for confronting the pandemic “like soldiers in the war who will stand up and face the enemy even though they lose their comrades”.

Khayelitsha, a sprawling township and home to at least 400,000 people, became a hotspot during the first wave when it was identified as the worst hit in the country.

“This vaccine gives us hope,” said Sa’ad Lahri, an emergency doctor at Khayelitsha District Hospital.

South Africa Launches Coronavirus Vaccine Campaign

Specimens of premixed saline solution designed to mimic the a COVID-19 vaccine are seen on the top of a prototype of Cryo-Vacc, an ultra-cold biologic transport unit, in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, on February 17, 2021. The unit uses a helium-based refrigerating technology, has been created to safely transport COVID-19 vaccines doses (6000 per unit) as well as other vaccines, especially in rural area of the Africa continent as it maintains the temperature inside (8 to -150 C) constant for three days without electricity. LUCA SOLA / AFP

 

 

President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the first to be inoculated Wednesday as South Africa launched its coronavirus vaccine campaign using Johnson & Johnson jabs, after the rollout was delayed.

South Africa earlier this month received a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca formula but halted administering it over concerns it would not protect against a widespread variant.

A nurse who works in a maternity ward at a hospital in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town was the first to be immunised, hours after the first batch of 80,000 doses landed in the country late Tuesday.

She looked relaxed as she received the jab, which was broadcast on live television.

After five healthcare workers got their jabs, it was Ramaphosa’s turn.

Before taking off his jacket and rolling up his white shirt’s long sleeves for the injection, he asked the nurse who was administering the jab if there would be any side effects.

“This day represents a real milestone for us as South Africans that finally the vaccines are here and they are being administered,” he said as he left the hospital to go to parliament.

He was upbeat that the rollout will be “flawless”.

“This is a new era for us,” he said.

South Africa late Tuesday took delivery of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines at an event that was closed to the press, in contrast to the fanfare two weeks ago when it received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs.

The new vaccines, only recently approved by the national health authorities, were distributed to 32 vaccination centres overnight.

The stock is part of a consignment of nine million doses that South Africa secured from the American pharmaceutical giant.

The first doses will target healthcare workers as part of a study by the country’s medical research authority.

Another 420,000 doses will be delivered over the next four weeks.

The country — the worst affected by the virus in Africa — suspended its vaccine rollout after a study found the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven to be 57 effective against the variant, identified as 501Y.V2.

South Africa has recorded nearly 1.5 million coronavirus infections, including more than 48,000 deaths.

It is emerging from a second wave of infections — fuelled by the new strain of the virus — and has seen the number of daily new cases drop from highs of 20,000 in early January to slightly over 1,000 this week.

Khayelitsha, a sprawling township and home to at least 400,000 people — became a hotspot during the first wave when it was identified as worst hit in the country.

South Africa Offers AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine To AU

A health worker shows a vial of Covishield, the Indian-made Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as medical staff of the Military Hospital Doctor Ramon De Lara FARD are being vaccinated against the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in Santo Domingo on February 16, 2021. 
Erika SANTELICES / AFP

 

South Africa said Tuesday it would offer its doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine to the African Union (AU) after scrapping their use due to efficacy concerns.

The country suspended its vaccine rollout — meant to begin with the AstraZeneca shots earlier this month — after a study found the jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa.

“The doses we purchased have been offered to the African Union to distribute to those countries who have already expressed interest in acquiring the stock,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament.

“There will be no wasteful and fruitless expenditure.”

The continent’s hardest-hit country by the pandemic had acquired a million doses of Covishield, a copy of the vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, and was set to receive an additional 500,000.

The AU, through its African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), has secured some 270 million doses of anti-Covid vaccine for the continent and last week said it would not “walk away” from the AstraZeneca formula.

It recommended countries where the South African variant has not been detected to proceed with the rollout.

Already, Malawi said it will forge ahead with its purchase of the jabs although the delivery dates are not yet confirmed.

South Africa has now settled for the yet-to-be-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, securing nine million doses, including 80,000 expected to be delivered this week.

Vaccination will begin with healthcare workers as part of an implementation study, Mkhize said.

Tulio de Oliveira, a South Africa-based professor of virology who helped identify the new variant, was optimistic the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would prove a success in the country.

“It doesn’t need the high levels of refrigeration, so a little bit easier to administer,” he told AFP.

Those vaccines will be supplemented by 20 million doses of the Pfizer formula as South Africa embarks on an ambitious aim to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of the year.

More doses will be secured through the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility and the AU.

The country has recently emerged from its second wave of infections, seeing the number of daily cases drop from highs of 20,000 in early January to just over 1,000 on Monday.

It has counted close to 1.5 million infections of which more than 48,000 have been fatal.

-AFP

South Africa Open To Sell Or Swap AstraZeneca Shots Says Minister

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, on November 17, 2020.
JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

 

South Africa is considering trading its doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which may be less effective against a local virus variant, and beginning its inoculation campaign with Johnson & Johnson shots instead, the health minister said Wednesday.

The country worst-hit by the pandemic in Africa has suspended its vaccine rollout — meant to begin with Oxford/AstraZeneca this week — after a study found the jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant discovered in South Africa dubbed 501Y.V2.

The vaccination delay has set back an ambitious plan to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of 2021.

“Given the outcomes of the efficacy studies (government) will continue with the planned phase one vaccination using the Johnson & Johnson vaccines instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a press briefing.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2 variant.”

He did not say when immunisation would begin.

Meantime officials are deciding on the fate of more than a million Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines already secured from the Serum Institute of India (SII) and set to expire at the end of April, though that date could potentially be adjusted.

Mkhize pointed at several options, including selling or swapping the doses with countries tackling the original coronavirus strain.

Scientific advisors have also suggested administering the vaccine to several thousand people within South Africa to assess whether it can still prevent severe infection from 501Y.V2.

“Depending on their advice, the vaccine will be swapped before the expiry date,” he said, adding that “there are already countries who are asking to sell it to them”.

“Our scientists will continue with further deliberations on the AstraZeneca vaccine use in South Africa,” Mkhize explained, assuring that nothing would go to waste.

The World Health Organization announced later on Wednesday that the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula could be used in settings where “variants are present”, as well as on people over the age of 65.

Local vaccine production

South Africa was slow to catch on to the global vaccine scramble and only received its first jabs, one million AstraZeneca shots, on February 1.

An additional 500,000 doses have been purchased from the SII and are meant to be delivered this month.

South Africa has ordered nine million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, of which a small shipment is expected to arrive next week.

But Mkhize said the first consignment would likely be used as “research stock”.

Vaccines have also been secured from US drugmaker Pfizer, the WHO-backed Covax facility and the African Union — bringing the announced total to just over 40 million.

Pfizer/BioNTech doses should be available in time for the first rollout phase, Mkhize added.

South African pharmaceutical giant Aspen, a contracted Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturer, is meanwhile striving to produce its first doses next month.

“They are very determined to fast-track this production in South Africa,” Mkhize said, adding that the stock would then be available in April.

Aspen told AFP it had “no further information” on its agreement with Johnson & Johnson and that speculations were “premature”.

South Africa is emerging from a second wave of coronavirus infections largely fuelled by 501Y.V2, said to be more transmissible than the original form.

The country has recorded close to 1.5 million cases and over 46,800 deaths.

Its now dominant variant has spread significantly across southern Africa, prompting a handful of countries to reconsider the use of Oxford/AstraZeneca shots.

Eswatini’s health minister on Tuesday said it would no longer be using the vaccine, while Malawi’s government is pondering a similar decision.

South Africa Goes For Johnson & Johnson Vaccine – Minister

File: CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

South Africa will begin its coronavirus inoculation campaign with Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the health minister said on Wednesday, after withholding the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula over doubts about effectiveness.

The country worst-hit by the pandemic in Africa has suspended its vaccine rollout — meant to begin with Oxford/AstraZeneca this week — after scientists found the shot failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a local virus variant known as 501Y.V2.

“Given the outcomes of the efficacy studies…, (government) will continue with the planned phase one vaccination using the Johnson & Johnson vaccines instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a press briefing.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2 variant.”

He did not say when immunisation would begin.

To date South Africa has ordered nine million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, of which a small shipment is expected to arrive next week.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

However, the first consignment will probably be used as “research stock,” Mkhize said.

South African pharmaceutical giant Aspen, a contracted Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturer, is striving to produce its first doses next month.

“They are very determined to fast-track this production in South Africa,” Mkhize said, adding that the stock would then be available in April.

South Africa’s vaccination delay has set back an ambitious aim to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of 2021.

The country was slow to catch on to the global vaccine scramble and only received its first jabs on February 1.

The one million AstraZeneca shots were produced by the Serum Institute of India, from which an additional 500,000 doses have been purchased.

South Africa is considering either selling or swapping these doses with countries facing the original strain of coronavirus, said the minister, insisting that nothing would go to waste.

Scientists have suggested administering some of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to several thousand people in South Africa to see if it can still prevent severe infection from the new variant.

Additional vaccines are being secured from US drugmaker Pfizer, and through the World Health Organisation-backed Covax facility and the African Union.

South Africa is emerging from a second wave of coronavirus infections largely fuelled by its virus variant, said to be more transmissible than the original form.

The country has recorded close to 1.5 million cases and over 46,800 deaths.