Extremely slow roll-out of the anti-Covid vaccination campaign in South Africa, along with deep-rooted inequality issues and a strained health system, risk hampering the government’s stated intention to defeat the pandemic amid the third wave of infections.

By Linda Bordoni

With more than 1,700,000 infections and nearly 58,000 deaths linked to Covid, South Africa is entering a third wave of the pandemic, fearing that the vaccine rollout is going far too slowly and may be hampered by problems deeply rooted in injustice and inequality.

Father Russell Pollitt, director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa, points out that incompetence and ineffectiveness at the government level, coupled with the fact that millions of the rural poor risk being excluded from the countryside. vaccination because they are not technologically savvy, the country’s proclaimed intention to beat the pandemic.

Speaking to Linda Bordoni, Pollitt said that so far only around 0.8% of South Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated, with a number of people now waiting for the second dose amid a context of uncertainty and lack of information that cast deep shadows. on the near future.

Listen to the interview with Fr. Russell Pollitt, SJ

Pollitt explained that the actual vaccine rollout is excruciatingly slow, that no one knows what will happen to the stockpile of single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines that the country has purchased but is stocking after a safety alert, and that theoretically anyone over the age of 60 is eligible to be vaccinated, although authorities are still deciding which categories will be the first to receive the jab.

Hospitals and clinics under heavy pressure

The health care system, Pollitt said, is not doing it. He noted that Johannesburg’s largest hospital recently had a fire and remains closed “just as we enter the third wave of the pandemic”.

“The private hospitals are full and this hospital had the capacity to treat a lot of people,” and when the local government was asked when it would reopen, he said, the incompetence was again highlighted as it is appeared that “plans were lost and no questions are answered.

The bottom line is that “the healthcare system is going to be under a lot of pressure over the next few weeks as the cold hits and the rate of infections increases.”

The poor and the elderly are at risk of being excluded from the vaccination campaign

Pollitt agrees that a system that requires the ability of the individual to book a vaccine online and receive a digital communication regarding an appointment to be vaccinated risks excluding many poor and elderly rural people who, a- he noted, may not have access to the technology and may not even be aware of the campaign.

“The idea was that satellite clinics would be set up across the country and people would be sensitized and vaccinated in satellite clinics. But given that the deployment has been so slow in the urban areas, I am of the opinion that it is largely ‘talk’ and that the government has not gone very far to reach the inhabitants of the areas. distant. “

Number of deaths and infections

It appears, Pollitt said, that with more than 5,600 new cases reported per day in the past two days, the number of government-reported infections appears to be in line with reality, while the number of deaths linked to Covid could be much higher. than the official statement.

“From conversations I have with the undertakers, they have told me that they are extremely busy and that they work 24 hours a day. An undertaker told me that the number of deaths due at Covid is much higher than what we are told, but it is very difficult to verify that. “

Curfews and restrictions

Pollitt explained that despite the third wave, the government decided not to enforce the same strict 2020 lockdown because the economic fallout was devastating and unemployment left millions of people in dire poverty.

The lockdown, he said, has been moved to level 2, meaning there is a curfew in place, restaurants close early, masks are mandatory in public. Religious gatherings, he revealed, are not allowed to include more than 100 people inside the building or 250 outside with the necessary spacing.

Typically, as in other countries around the world, there is ‘covid fatigue’ with frustrated people as well as a significant increase in mental health issues and isolation issues for the elderly and the sick. .

“For the most part, people are doing their best to make their way through the pandemic and stay safe,” he said, but in many areas, including in ministry and outreach, things will never be the same again.

Adapting to your time at the Jesuit Institute

Pollitt concluded by reflecting on how the Jesuit Institute in South Africa, which he heads, has been forced to find new ways to continue his work “in part because so much of our work is to train and give retreats and meet people at gatherings ”.

A prime example, he said, is the Institute’s “Winter Life Theology Program” which has been offered across the country with three days of teaching on a specific topic: it was discontinued and moved to an online version, as did several online retreats and training courses, including a two-year course for spiritual directors, which has become an online course.

It was quite difficult for some of the staff, he said, because “by nature we have always been able to meet people” and to this are added the effects of financial difficulties due to the drop in income.

“We’re very focused on the fact that the Church of the future, and certainly the work of a place like the Jesuit Institute, is going to be a hybrid, that we’re never going to go back to what it was. We’re entering a new way of being, and we’re thinking more and more about how we can make the work we’re doing a hybrid, where there will be things in person where we can, but a lot of things. will also be online.

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