| 5 March 2024, Tuesday |

South Africa eases lockdown restrictions despite low vaccination rates

Carlos Mavanga is one of of those who leaves his village daily heading to Thulamahashe town. Since 6 a.m. he has been waiting patiently in a long line in front of a supermarket where he will receive his pension — the equivalent of around €100 ($118). Five of his family members also rely on the grant.

While he is waiting, Mavanga is approached by nurses. They offer him a Covid-19 vaccine. He doesn’t think twice.

“It is easier for me to get vaccinated at the same place where I pick up my social grant,” the 64-year old tells DW. “They only came once to my village to vaccinate people — and I only learned about it when it was too late. That’s why I am happy I can get it here today.”

More than 100 mobile vaccination sites in the country are currently being set up in the same places where many residents receive their social grants.

Jane Simmonds from the South African Medical Research Council says the idea is simple: Bring the the vaccine to where the people are.

“We know that people over 60 are far more vulnerable and exposed to COVID and the severe consequences of COVID,” she says. “So it was an obvious thing for us to come to the queue where older people are collecting their grants. Because they are already in town — and easy to find and approach.”

Mpumalanga still has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. In total, less than 20% of South Africans are fully vaccinated. President Cyril Ramaphosa spent months fighting for easier vaccine acess — an issue plaguing much of the continent. Finally — at least in South Africa — the supply arrived. Then demand became the problem, with fewer people than expected racing to take the jab.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, Ramaphosa announced a loosening o f COVID restrictions from Monday due to a decline in infections. The current nighttime curfew now begins one hour later at 11 p.m., larger gatherings are allowed and shops can sell alcohol on weekdays.

Many rules still remain in place, however, including mandatory face masks in public. While the third wave in South Africa still isn’t over, the number of new infections have declined in the last few weeks. The official number of deaths due to COVID-19 in South Africa is 85,500, however excess death numbers suggest that the real toll may be closer to 200,000.