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COVID-19 vaccine plan raises eyebrows ahead of launch in South Africa

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South Africa’s government has started outlining its Covid-19 inoculation plans, despite not yet receiving a single vaccine dose, as it faces criticism over unrealistic targets and a lack of clarity.

The continent’s worst-hit country is placing high hopes on vaccines as the authorities grapple with an unprecedented surge in cases fuelled by a new virus variant.

COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa

The government is aiming to vaccinate two thirds of its population – around 40 million out of nearly 60 million people – in order to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021.

One million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are expected this month – the first shipment of 20 million secured doses to be mainly delivered in the first-half of the year.

“This will be the largest and most complex logistical undertaking in our country’s history,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said during an address to the nation on Monday. 

After weeks of public outcry over a lack of planning, Ramaphosa finally laid out a three-phase vaccination blueprint for the year ahead.

Vaccine logistics

Around 1.2 million health professionals will be first in line for the shot, followed by 16 million elderly and vulnerable citizens, as well as frontline workers. A remaining 22.5 million adults are then scheduled to be vaccinated.

But details on timing, suppliers and logistics remain thin, raising doubts over the plan’s feasibility. Said Angelique Coetzee, head of the South African Medical Associatio:

“That would mean we would have to vaccinate 150,000 people every day for the next 12 months. It’s unrealistic. We do not have that capacity. Who is going to vaccinate all these people?”

‘Vultures feast on Covid-19 misery’

Ramaphosa assured that negotiations with vaccine manufacturers would be centralised and transparent. Faith in the government has been rocked by a string of coronavirus-linked corruption scandals last year involving high-profile politicians currently under investigation.

“Vultures feast on Covid-19 misery,” blasted a local newspaper in July, citing allegedly corrupt deals to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE).

Ramaphosa said South Africa would secure its vaccines through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, the African Union and “direct engagements” with suppliers.

The first 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines, expected in January and February, will be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. COVAX is expected to provide doses for 10 percent of the population between April and June.

‘No concrete plan’

Negotiations are also underway with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, as well as with Chinese and Russian manufacturers. 

Frustrated by the delay, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has accused the government of sidelining “reputable” manufacturers in favour of Chinese and Russian suppliers, “hoping to score kickbacks”.

“We have no concrete plan for the acquisition of this vaccine,” the DA said in a statement this week. “Where are the 20 million doses… being sourced from?”

Pressure is piling up on the government. South Africa’s second coronavirus wave has hit harder than the first, fuelled by a virus variant believed to be more transmissible.

‘Game-changer’

To date the country has recorded more than 1.2 million cases and 34 000 fatalities. At least 190 000 infections and 4 600 deaths were registered this year alone. Ramaphosa promised:

“An effective vaccine will be a game-changer.”

But experts estimate it could cost between R12 billion and R20 billion to vaccinate the entire population, according to local media. That is a steep figure for a country with towering public debt which has been compounded by an economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

The Treasury, which vowed to foot the bill, has not yet disclosed its budget for vaccine procurement. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has called on the private sector to help with the roll out.

Last week, South Africa’s two biggest pharmacies said they would offer the shots in their stores, and provide storage and distribution facilities. Warned top vaccine ministerial advisor Barry Schoub:

“The main challenge is going to be distributing the vaccine in parts of the country which are very difficult to get hold of. There are parts of the country where there are not even roads.” 

By Claire Doyen @ Agence France-Presse

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Tension in Oyo: Makinde meets Buhari, demands more security agents

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A chieftain of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, NNPP, Barr. Olusegun Bamgbose, has described the dismissal of the country’s security heads as the best decision taken by President Muhammadu Buhari in his five years in office.

The new service chiefs, as Muhabarishaji had earlier reported, are: Major-General Leo Irabor as Chief of Defence Staff; Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao as Chief of Air Staff; Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo as Chief of Naval Staff; and General Ibrahim Attahiru as Chief of Army Staff.

Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, Tuesday, said that his principal felt it was the best time to remove the security heads and appoint new ones.

According to Adesina, “the President knew the time to do it and I believe the time has come and that is why it has been done.”

He added that the service chiefs did not resign as a result of a number of security failures under their tenure.

And speaking with Muhabarishaji in reaction to development, Bamgbose, who had in many occasions pleaded with Buhari to change his service chiefs, said, “The much awaited and most expected sack of Service chiefs yesterday by President Buhari, is a cheering news and the best decision Buhari has made in five years as President.”

He said the President’s decision is no doubt a very welcome development and a very big relief, adding that Buhari deserves commendation for summoning up courage to show the service chiefs exit door.

“I will also commend the stakeholders who made this possible. Worthy of mention is the National Assembly, Femi Falana, Femi Fani Kayode and notable Northerners who all put pressure on the Presidency to do away with the exhausted service chiefs.

“I’m very optimistic that the change will equally bring about a change in the fight against insurgency. Boko Haram, bandits, gunmen, kidnappers should be prepared to face the wrath of the military.

“It won’t be business as usual. President Buhari has done well in removing them. His decision to sack them can be said to be the best he has made as President of Nigeria in five years of his administration.

“The new service chiefs should swing into action immediately. There is no room for too much talk or celebration, they should strike and put an end to this ugly scenario of insecurity in Nigeria.”

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Africa

Turkey helps Libya in diffusing explosives, bombs

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Turkish experts continue to help Libya in diffusing and removal of explosives and bombs, Anadolu reports.

According to a statement by the Turkish National Defense Ministry, Turkish Air Forces’ Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams continue their work in Libya as part of military training and cooperation arrangements between the two countries.

The EOD teams ensure the safety of Libyans, the press release said.

The North African country has been torn by a civil war since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The rival sides – the UN-recognized Government of National Accord and warlord Khalifa Haftar – reached a countrywide permanent cease-fire last October. International efforts for a permanent political settlement, however, are still underway.

Turkish Armed Forces have also been training Libya’s navy and army.

Turkey’s investment in Libya: Enka cooperates with Siemens to build power stations

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Ireland

Hauliers warn of significant disruption as France imposes mandatory Covid tests

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Hauliers are warning of significant new disruption at the Irish Sea and Channel ports that will likely lead to more delays into and from Ireland of foodstuffs and parcels after the French government imposed mandatory Covid-19 testing for Irish truckers travelling into the country for the first time.

Aidan Flynn, general manager of business group the Freight Transport Association Ireland, said the new testing effectively destroys the EU’s initiative known as the “green lane”, under which truckers were deemed essential workers and didn’t require testing for Covid-19.

The move will lead to more uncertainty on top of the disruption at Channel and Irish ports caused by Brexit.

As the Irish Examiner reports, the supply chain of foodstuffs and parcels from the continent will face even more uncertainty and warned that “on some days you could get delays to deliveries and on other days you could be Ok,” he said.

The French had moved because of the prevalence of the English variant of Covid-19 in Ireland, which means that even Irish essential workers from Thursday have to show a negative test taken 72 hours before arrival to enter France, Mr Flynn said.

Emergency planning

The Department of Transport here has launched its emergency planning to set up free testing centres to cover the two major UK landbridge ports in the Republic, including for Rosslare, of which Mr Flynn said the industry had concerns because of its location some distance from the port.

A car park at Dublin Airport will be the major testing centre truckers for Dublin Port.

“It is good that the State is covering the costs of the antigen tests and it has been a bit of challenge to get them secured” because they had not been approved by the Irish health authorities, he said.

“The concern for the industry is if it is happening here and in France and in Holland, and with Britain as a third country that there will there be new requirements at the Irish Sea. It is a genuine concern because to do an antigen test will eat into drivers’ regulated working hours,” Mr Flynn said.

Even the direct sea routes to France from the Republic will be required to have truckers’ tested, the hauliers’ group said.

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