Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has warned of a stricter lockdown as worries mount over the size and acceleration of South Africa’s third Covid-19 wave, the Sunday Times reports.
Kubayi-Ngubane said that the government was particularly concerned about Gauteng, which has seen a rapid rise in cases and now faces potential hospital bed capacity problems.
“The system is showing signs of being under pressure in terms of the numbers, with Gauteng reporting the most numbers,” she said. “The interventions cannot speak to Gauteng only because we need to ensure that we protect the other provinces.”
The warning comes after the country’s vaccination efforts were dealt a big blow on Friday when the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that a large number of Johnson & Johnson vaccines are contaminated.
The ruling means that as many as two million J&J vaccines stored by Aspen Pharmacare in Gqeberha may have to be dumped.
Kubayi-Ngubane said that the ruling has taken South Africa’s efforts “a bit backwards”. She added that South Africa was not currently facing a shortage of vaccines, but that it could run into problems in the coming months.
“We do anticipate that once we open (phase) 2B, when over-40s will be eligible for vaccination from the beginning of July, we will definitely be under pressure and we want to be ready for that”.
“People are asking about Sputnik and Sinovac. Those are some of the things that we are looking at and at the time when we have answers we will provide and announce on those.”
On Friday, the FDA said that some batches of the J&J version were not fit to use, while others are still under review. Two lots have been approved, though it’s not clear where those are headed or how many that covers.
South Africa is heavily reliant on the J&J vaccine to meet a target of inoculating two-thirds of its 60 million population this year, having ordered more than 31 million of the single-dose shot, Bloomberg reported.
Aspen Pharmacare, Africa’s largest drug maker, has a contract to fill and package the doses at a factory in the coastal town of Gqebherha – until recently known as Port Elizabeth.
“The vaccines awaiting distribution from the Gqebherha plant need further assessment by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority,” the country’s ministry of health said in a statement.
That will determine “if they are suitable for use in South Africa. There is now a real possibility that they may not be, however this is for the regulator to rule on,” it said.