President Cyril Ramaphosa focussed his State of the Nation Address on just four priorities for 2021. Firstly, to defeat the coronavirus pandemic; secondly, accelerate economic recovery; thirdly, implement economic reforms to create sustainable jobs and drive inclusive growth; and finally, fight corruption and strengthen the state.

In previous years, the State of the Nation Address would have included six or seven priority areas for government’s plans for the year, but President Ramaphosa said he will address the other important elements of the government’s programme for the year in the coming weeks.

Priority number on is the nation’s recovery from Covid-19, as South Africa has just emerged from the second wave of infections, driven by a new variant of the virus. This second wave was more severe, the President said, and cost many more lives than the first. Had the government not moved quickly to restrict movement and activity, had the government not prepared its health facilities, had South Africans not observed the basic health protocols, the devastation caused by this virus could have been far worse, the President said.

Part of government’s measures to combat the disease include the intensification of prevention efforts and strengthening the health system. In addition, the government is planning a massive vaccination programme to save lives and dramatically reduce infections across the population.

President Ramaphosa mentioned the recent setback to these plans, in that one of the vaccines the government had procured, the AstraZeneca vaccine, offers minimal protection from mild to moderate infection by the new variant known as 501Y.v2. This is according to early findings of a study by our scientists and researchers. The government applauds these scientists for leading this research and providing new evidence that is vital for guiding our response.

“Since this variant is now the dominant variant in our country, these findings have significant implications for the pace, design and sequencing of our vaccine programme,” he said.

While it should not delay the start of the vaccination programme by much, it will affect the choice of vaccines and the manner of their deployment. “The first phase of our vaccination programme, which is targeted at health and other frontline workers, will now use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been shown to be effective against the 501Y.V2 variant.”

He announced that the government has secured 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and that the first batch of 80 000 doses will arrive in the country next week. Further consignments will arrive over the next four weeks, totaling 500 000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines. In addition, he said: “We have secured 12 million vaccine doses from the global COVAX facility.

This stock of vaccines will be complemented by other vaccines that are available to South Africa through the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team facility. Pfizer has also committed 20 million vaccine doses, the President said, commencing with deliveries at the end of the first quarter.

President Ramaphosa assured South Africans that all medication imported into the country is monitored, evaluated, investigated, inspected and registered by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. “We will continue to use the science-driven approach that has served us well since the earliest days of the pandemic,” he added.

Mava Lukani
11 February 2021