South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and other dignitaries stood on the tarmac, masked and under dark umbrellas in the driving rain, as the Emirates flight carrying the first vaccine shipment landed at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport Monday afternoon. This shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine was purchased from an Indian manufacturer, officials said.
Ramaphosa did not speak to the public, but in a statement, said, “The scale of delivery is unprecedented in terms of the number of people who have to be reached within a short space of time.”
The first vaccines, he said, will go to 1.2 million front-line health workers.
South Africa is the continent’s viral hotspot, with 1.4 million confirmed cases since the virus turned up in the country in March. The nation experienced the start of a second wave -- featuring a new variant that is significantly more contagious -- in late December, but the peak of that wave appears to be subsiding. Current vaccines are expected to work on the South African variant, called 501.V2, said the head of the nation’s coronavirus task force, Dr. Salim Abdool Karim.
The rest of the continent is awaiting shipment of about 300 million vaccines. South Africa will now become the fifth African nation to roll out vaccinations, after Morocco, Egypt, the Seychelles and Guinea.
Ramaphosa is expected to address the nation late Monday about its continuing coronavirus precautions and restrictions.
The president said wealthy countries should not hold onto excess stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines, and that the world needs to work together to fight the pandemic.
He told a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum that those who have hoarded vaccines need to release them “so that other countries can have them.”