JOHANNESBURG - The coronavirus vaccine is coming, with South Africa expecting to conclude negotiations in upcoming weeks to vaccinate 41 million people, and the next stage of vaccinations to begin in May, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced late Tuesday.
In addition to 31 million doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, President Ramaphosa said the nation is finalizing an agreement for 20 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine. He did not say precisely when that vaccine would arrive.
FILE - An ambulance is parked near tents erected at the parking lot of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa, Jan. 11, 2021.
South Africa is the continent's COVID-19 epicenter. In the last year, the nation has seen 1.5 million known cases, and more than 52,000 deaths. But the nation appears to be holding firm in the face of a possible third wave, with a "stable" level of about 1,200 new cases per day and declining hospitalizations and deaths.
And, Ramaphosa said, more vaccine - from China and Russia - may also be on the way.
"We are also in various stages of negotiations with the manufacturers of other vaccines such as Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sputnik V," he said. "Some of these manufacturers are in the final stages of the approval process for use of their vaccines in South Africa. In addition to vaccine doses we will receive directly through our agreements with manufacturers, we will also receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union initiative that we established when we held the chair[man]ship of the African Union."
The welcome news comes with a bit of a sting. This year's Easter holiday, usually a season for gatherings and celebration in this majority-Christian nation, will be a little ... drier this year.
"Given the role of alcohol in fueling reckless behavior, we will put in place some restrictions over the Easter weekend," he said, adding that bars and restaurants could continue to sell alcohol on those days. "To this end, the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited this coming Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Just those four days."
But, Ramaphosa soberly reminded his people, the religious holidays - for Christians, Jews and Muslims - are really a time for hope, rebirth and renewal.
And in these difficult times, he added, caution.