President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged that the first two weeks of 2021 have been difficult for all South Africans, but says he is confident that the country is better prepared for the pandemic and possible future surges.
Writing in his weekly letter to the country, Ramaphosa said that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened, with new infections increasing far quicker than before. Hospitals, as a result, have come under severe strain as more people have needed medical attention.
“While most economic sectors have been able to operate again for several months, it will take some time for the economy to recover and for lost jobs to be restored,” he said.
“As the new year starts, many families are still feeling the effects of the pandemic on their lives and livelihoods.”
For South Africa, as for most countries around the world, the year 2021 will be extremely challenging, Ramaphosa said.
“The second wave of Covid-19 infections may well be followed by further waves, which will threaten both the health of our people and the recovery of our economy. Difficult as this year will be, I am certain that we will overcome the pandemic and set our country firmly on the path to recovery.”
Ramaphosa said that his confidence comes from the South African people and how they have responded to the pandemic.
“Certainly there were exceptions, but the vast majority of South Africans understood the need for restrictions on their movement and activities, and complied with the regulations that we had to put in place.
“Even more important than compliance, most South Africans took responsibility for themselves and for others, following advice on issues like social distancing, wearing a mask and handwashing.”
Ramaphosa said that South Africans now know about the risks of closed spaces and crowded gatherings, of not wearing masks and not keeping our distance from others.
“This bodes well for the year ahead. We now know much more about the disease and how to prevent its spread. And despite what one could call ‘pandemic fatigue’, we are no less determined as South Africans to do what needs to be done.”
The president said that this will be aided by the rolling out of a mass vaccination campaign.
“As more and more people are vaccinated, we will both save lives and progressively reduce the risk of infection across the population,” he said.
While South Africa continues to struggle through the second wave of the Covid-19 virus, warnings have come from both the healthcare and economic sectors that the country faces future surges ahead.
This frequency and severity of such surges hinges off the effective rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Recent developments suggest that South Africa is running the risk of not fully participating in the widely expected vaccine-induced global growth acceleration in the latter stages of the year, said the Bureau for Economic Research (BER).
In a recent research note the BER warned that Covid-19 will come in waves and that the country will be impacted numerous times in 2021.
“As a result, countries who find themselves at the back of the queue for vaccines face an almost inevitable damaging third, and potentially fourth wave of the virus,” it said.
Tivani Mashamba, professor of diagnostic research at the University of Pretoria, warned that the pandemic was only getting started, and that further waves of the virus could present as the seasons change.
The government has been criticised for being slow around Covid vaccines, while putting forward a lofty and unattainable rollout strategy. While it says that it has secured 1.5 million doses for the near term, and ‘secured’ 20 million so far, questions have been raised about how so many people will be vaccinated.
Critics have also called into question government’s capacity to manage the rollout, without corruption seeping into the process.
Ramaphosa acknowledged that corruption had marred the initial stages of the Covid-19 response, but said things will be different with the vaccine, as tighter controls are put in place.
The president said that the government will be the main acquirer of Covid-19 vaccines for South Africa, while the private sector will help with funding and distribution.
“With the vaccines, we are going to be able to have proper management. We have learnt a lot of lessons and have learnt from lessons in the past.”