Editorial: The West dithers, but South Africa has to take some responsibility for this wave

It’s come a bit sooner than we may have expected, but the fourth wave is upon us in Gauteng — and it’s spreading across the country. The latest Covid-19 wave has arrived on the back of the Omicron variant, first discovered by South African scientists, that has Western leaders in yet another frenzy. As we head into a third year of this global pandemic, it’s clear — and very worrying — that we aren’t currently blessed with the most lucid leaders. 

With multilateralism on the back foot and nationalism a still growing theme as economies struggle under the weight of the pressures wrought by Covid-19, among others, understanding that this disease will only be defeated if all nations work together will be rather difficult to comprehend for men such as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Increasing vaccination access across Africa and the developing world is critical to better managing this disease, which is likely to have many more variants before it’s finally under control. But the leading capitals of the world are too inwardly focused to consider this truth.

Ministers in the UK earlier this week secured new contracts to buy 114-million more vaccines over the next two years, 2022 and 2023. The UK has fully vaccinated some 70% of its population; less than 10% of the African population as a whole has been vaccinated — a classic model of inequity.

Although we can and should berate the Western world for reacting like children and not basing their actions on science and what is best for the rest of the world, as South Africa we need to be accountable for our poor vaccination rates. 

The rest of the continent has largely struggled to acquire vaccines against the bigger balance sheets of the world’s larger economies, but we face no such constraints. In fact, we just had to send back a shipping order for vaccines because of the low uptake. 

Aside from the anti-vaxxer community, why are people not getting vaccinated? Doctors, scientists and other experts across the world agree on one thing: vaccines work. 

The position we are in at the moment is the exact same one we will be in six months if we don’t vaccinate enough people. Almost half of the world’s population has been vaccinated; to protect each other we have to get the numbers higher if we are to start fighting the pandemic properly. People talk so much about needing to get back to normalcy — or, at least, a semblance of it — but how will we do so if we have a less than 30% vaccination rate? 

This week data showed an unemployment rate that continues to reach new records and is now just less than 35%. This fourth wave will only serve to further depress confidence levels in the economy and increase our jobless rate. 

Not so long ago, everyone was extremely angry when we couldn’t get our hands on vaccines and yet here we are: no one wants to get vaccinated. If we are to overcome this pandemic, or at least get a better handle on it, all sectors of society are going to have to come to the party and urge our fellow citizens to get vaccinated —  it’s the only defence.

For many of us, the emergence of this variant and yet another wave of infections has added to our exhaustion levels, but we can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand. There’s still much work to do in pursuit of something like normal.

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