South Africa News

Pandemic takes centre stage in Emmanuel Macron’s SA trip

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected in South Africa on Friday for a lightning trip dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and its widening economic damage.

Macron, arriving from a historic visit to Rwanda where he acknowledged French responsibility in the 1994 genocide, will flag his support for vaccine production in Africa, say sources familiar with his 24-hour stay.

The continent’s most industrialized economy but also its worst-hit by Covid, South Africa has recorded more than 1.6 million cases of infection, of which more than 56,000 have been fatal.

But just one percent of its population of 59 million have been vaccinated — most of them health workers and people aged 60 or above.

The immunization effort got off to a stuttering start when South Africa purchased AstraZeneca vaccines earlier this year and then sold them to other African countries following fears that they would be less effective.

Then, after it started inoculating health workers, using the Johnson & Johnson jabs, it had to pause for two weeks mid-April to vet risks over blood clots that had been reported in the US.

After a brief lull, infections climbed by as much as 46 percent between the last week of April and the first week of May.

Macron’s trip was scheduled to have taken place more than a year ago but was postponed as the pandemic shifted into higher gear.

His push for the visit stems from the fact that South Africa “is a major partner on the continent, a member of the G20, it’s regularly invited to the G7 — it’s essential in the approach to multilateralism,” one of his aides said before the trip.

Macron and South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa will hold talks and then head to the University of Pretoria to launch a programme to support African vaccine production, a project backed by the European Union, United States, and World Bank.

South Africa and India have been pushing for intellectual property protection for Covid vaccines to be waived, arguing this would spur production globally.

– African vaccines –

Pharma companies have opposed this, pointing out that manufacturing a vaccine requires know-how and technical resources — something that cannot be acquired at the flip of a switch.

Macron’s approach is to push for a transfer of technology to enable production sites in poorer countries.

The industry “is highly concentrated in the United States, Europe, Asia and a little bit in Latin America,” a Macron aide said.

“Africa today produces very few anti-Covid productions and most notably no vaccine at the present time.”

Macron will also make a pitch for French business in South Africa, especially in climate-friendly sectors.

The two will also discuss the security crisis in northern Mozambique, where a bloody jihadist insurgency is now in its fourth year.

The French energy giant Total last month suspended work on a massive $20 billion gas project in Cabo Delgado province after jihadists attacked the nearby town of Palma.

Before flying home on Saturday, Macron will talk to members of the French community and, like many VIPs before him, visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Source: AFP

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