On the day South Africa took delivery of its first coronavirus vaccine shipment, the leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) responded with yet another round of stinging criticism against President Ramaphosa’s administration, saying the “government is yet to deliver an explicit, comprehensive procurement and rollout plan.”
“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.”
Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen added that 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,” the country finds itself 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.”
Herd immunity? A pipedream!
He said while other countries with comparable economies are already administering hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 shots 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 life-saving vaccines for them,” Steenhuisen said in reference to crowds massing at the Muizenberg and Langebaan beaches in Cape Town the weekend to protest government’s lockdown regulations.
“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, the DA leader continued, “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,” Steenhuisen said.
This absence of a detailed vaccine rollout strategy has prompted the DA to take 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,” he said.
“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.”
Steenhuisen further claimed that DP David Mabuza’s appointment as vaccine roll out chief is motivated by intra-ANC politics.
“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.”
Enlist private sector
“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,” he said.
He acknowledged, though, that people need to be realistic and accept that “we will be running this race against the virus for a very long time to come” and that it’s crucial that front line healthcare workers and those most vulnerable to Covid are vaccinated as soon as possible.
Steenhuisen said the urgency of the situation underscores the need for government to prioritize vaccines as a high-impact intervention and place far more trust in the private sector to assist in rolling them out because 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.”
Government: SA’s weakest link
Steenhuisen says it’s crucial to do everything possible now to protect the 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.”
The DA welcomed the lifting of what it said was 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.”
Steenhuisen’s DA also wants the curfew to be lifted completely, arguing that freedom of movement is a basic civil liberty and there is “absolutely no justification” for denying it.
“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.”