South African Party Demands Vaccines by Staging Crowded March
(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s populist opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, protested against the government’s slow Covid-19 vaccine rollout by calling a march with little social distancing in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections.
More than a thousand people clad in the red regalia of the EFF, which describes itself as a radical and militant economic emancipation movement, marched on the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority in Pretoria on Friday. They demanded the immediate approval for use of Chinese and Russian vaccines. The EFF is South Africa’s second-biggest opposition party.
“Lockdown is not a solution, the solution is to vaccinate the majority of South Africans,” Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, told the crowd. “Allow gatherings to come together, allow people to start making more money. We are here to protect the lives of our people and if that means we must die for our people to live, so be it.”
The main part of South Africa’s vaccine rollout only began last month and just 2.55 million of the 40 million people the government estimates needs to be inoculated to reach herd immunity have received a dose. While vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc. have been approved for use, the agency is evaluating China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines as well as Russia’s Sputnik V shot.
Malema has previously supported government imposed lockdowns and called for schools to close, going as far as to threaten to send EFF members to shut them down, contradicting his current position.
While Malema told his supporters to observe social distancing, there was little evidence of that. Malema said that if they weren’t met at SAHPRA by management, they would march on the house of the regulator’s chairwoman, Helen Rees.
The South African Medical Research Council criticized EFF allegations that the regulator had disallowed the use of Sputnik V and Sinovac because it is allegedly controlled by western pharmaceutical companies. The party has also leveled physical threats against the regulator’s personnel, it said.
“We condemn such behavior and fully support the vital regulatory role that SAHPRA plays in ensuring that all medications and vaccines undergo rigorous examination to assess the safety, efficacy and quality of products prior to them being registered,” it said.
The province of Gauteng, where the march took place, is expected to hit the peak of a third wave of infections in the first week of July, according to modeling prepared for the provincial government.
Gauteng is home to one in four South Africans and more than 60% of daily new infections nationally.
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