Toll on South African health system as Covid-19 infections rise amid approval of Sinovac vaccine

SOUTH AFRICA – The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases reported in South Africa stands at 2,062,896 with 16,585 new cases reported today. The number of new deaths reported is 333 making the total number of deaths in the country 61,840. The number of recoveries is 1,808,082 with a recovery rate of 87.6%.

The health system in Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, being overwhelmed by a massive wave of infections driven by the Delta variant, the winter in the southern hemisphere and a faltering vaccine campaign.

The new variant, which is now dominant in Africa’s most developed country, has driven up the official death toll to more than 60,000, though excess mortality statistics suggest more than 170,000 may have died from Covid.

Across Africa, the Delta variant is fueling an aggressive third wave of infections, with case numbers climbing faster than all earlier peaks, according to the World Health Organization.

Authorities in South Africa have been unable to stem the spread of the new variant, only moving to impose new restrictions after a massive wave of infections ravaged the country’s economic heartland.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that the country’s health system was buckling as he imposed a two-week ban on all gatherings, indoors and outdoors, along with the sale of alcohol and travel to or from the worst hit areas of the country, such as Gauteng, its most populous and economically productive province. An extended curfew was also imposed, and schools shut early for holidays.

The surge in infections has laid bare the weakness of the public health services, with hospitals overflowing and shortages of oxygen, but above all a lack of trained personnel.

The much-publicized arrival of military doctors has been described by health practitioners as a very late drop in a very big ocean.

Last Thursday the South African Medical Association threatened to take the government to court because scores of new junior doctors cannot find placements despite staff shortages.

The vaccine drive has been halted over weekends and public holidays to rest health workers but also because there is no budget for overtime, officials have admitted.

This is happening even after South Africa’s health products regulator sanctioned the use of the Sinovac Biotech’s coronavirus vaccine as it fights a new wave of the pandemic.

Sinovac becomes the first shot developed for the deadly virus by a Chinese company to be authorized locally.

According to a statement on Saturday, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority backed the double-dose vaccine developed by Sinovac’s Life Sciences unit albeit with conditions.

Sahpra’s conditions include satisfactory results of ongoing studies and periodic safety updates.

South Africa has so far managed to vaccinate 0.8% of its population having administered well over 5.16 million doses.

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