S.Africa steps up COVID variant fight

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South Africa has secured millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines to fight the highly infectious COVID-19 variant that is dominant in the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa says.

During a televised annual state of the nation address, Ramaphosa said South Africa had secured nine million doses of the J&J vaccine, with 500,000 expected to arrive over the next four weeks so authorities can start inoculating health workers.

Another 20 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech were also on their way, he said.

South Africa has been hit hard by a second wave of COVID-19 after the discovery of a new variant in the Eastern Cape, called 501Y.V2, believed to be 50 per cent more contagious than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

It has already spread to two dozen other countries.

"Driven by a new variant of the virus, this second wave was more severe and cost many more lives than the first wave," Ramaphosa said on Thursday.

"We must undertake a massive vaccination program to save lives and dramatically reduce infections."

In addition, the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organisation would provide 12 million vaccine doses, he said.

COVID-19 has claimed more than 47,000 lives and infected nearly 1.5 million in South Africa since the pandemic began.