/Slow vaccine rollout means third-wave risk is still a reality in South Africa: economists

Slow vaccine rollout means third-wave risk is still a reality in South Africa: economists

Despite Covid-19 data showing a relatively stable rate of infection a week after the Easter break, it’s still too early to tell whether lockdown measures over the long weekend were effective or not.

A possible third wave of infection in the country remains a significant risk to be factored in, the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) said, over and above disappointingly slow rollout of vaccines.

In a research note on Monday (12 April), the BER said that the latest virus metrics suggest that Covid-19 remains relatively under control “for now”, with the seven-day rolling average of new cases stabilising below 1,000 in the past week.

“It is, however, important to note that it is too early for the data to show a possible acceleration of transmission around the Easter break after government’s puzzling decision to increase the number of people allowed at gatherings ahead of the long weekend,” it said.

Because of this, third wave infections remain a big risk on the economy, exacerbated by the fact that the country has barely made any progress in vaccinating the population.

Over the weekend, a total of 38 people were vaccinated, taking the total to 288,406. Since the Sisonke vaccination ‘study’ launched in on 17 February, government has managed to perform an average of 5,500 inoculations a day.

The BER said that the government’s programme should pick up at the end of April, once the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines become commercially available – but this means that phase 2 of the vaccination rollout will only begin in May, with phase 3 (general public availability) only likely in November.

The rollout delays have already started to impact forecasts on South Africa’s economy, the BER noted, with the latest data from the International Monetary Fund pointing to GDP recovery trailing behind economic peers.

The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook update released last week reflected a broad-based upward revision to GDP growth prospects for 2021 and 2022.

The global growth forecast was lifted to 6% in 2021 and 4.4% in 2022, largely driven by the expectation of a booming US economy. The expected growth rate for emerging markets (EM) was also increased (to 6.7% in 2021 and 5% in 2022).

“Despite an upward revision to SA growth, the IMF foresees the local economy to expand by a mere 3.1% and 2% in the same years. While the IMF’s outlook for SA is weaker than our view, there seems to be little doubt that SA will underperform compared to many of its EM peers,” the BER said.

“One of the main reasons for SA’s expected underperformance is the slow rollout of the domestic vaccine programme,” it said.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the first batch of Johnson & Johnson’s commercially produced vaccines should arrive within two weeks, with a delivery from Pfizer due before the end of the month.

This should allow government to move on to phase two of the inoculation programme in May after those health workers who did not receive a shot through the Sisonke implementation study have also been vaccinated.

“Although government has, after initial delays, progressed well with procuring sufficient vaccines, the staggered delivery means that a third wave of infections remains a big risk,” it said.

South Africa recorded 931 new cases of Covid-19 in South Africa on Sunday evening, taking the total reported cases to 1,558,458. Deaths have reached 53,322 (a daily increase of 66), while recoveries have climbed to 1,483,296, leaving the country with a balance of 21,840 active cases.

The total number of vaccines administered is 288,408.