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World

Pandemic takes centre stage in Macron's SAfrica 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.
Published May 28, 2021

JOHANNESBURG: 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 industrialised 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 immunisation 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.

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