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South Africa allocates an extra $276 mln to fight COVID-19 pandemic

South Africa has allocated an extra 4 billion rand ($276 mln) to buy COVID-19 vaccines and extend a special distress grant to thousands of people hit by the pandemic, in a Special Appropriation Bill tabled by the finance minister on Tuesday.

The bill, expected to be debated with the National Treasury in a parliamentary committee meeting later on Tuesday, allocates an additional 1.25 billion rand to the department of health to purchase COVID-19 vaccines and another 2.82 billion rand to social development for the distress grant of 350 rand per person.

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South Africa – the worst-hit country on the continent in terms of reported coronavirus infections and deaths – has struggled to kickstart a mass vaccination program, inoculating just over 329,000 health workers with Johnson & Johnson’s shot as part of a research study, while it waits for its first batch of commercial doses to become available.

It has ordered 31 million doses of J&J’s one-shot vaccine and 30 million doses of Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine, enough for a combined 46 million of its 60 million people.

On Sunday it received its first weekly batch of Pfizer vaccine, with the US pharmaceutical giant expected to ship 4.5 million doses by June.

The Special Appropriation Bill also made adjustments to funding for struggling state airline, South African Airways (SAA), which last week exited a local form of bankruptcy protection called business rescue after roughly 17 months.

South Africa’s government had previously pledged 10.5 billion rand to SAA as part of a turnaround strategy, but 2.7 bln rand had not been handed over as yet.

The adjustment makes allowance for SAA’s units, such as low-cost airline Mango and its technical division, to also get financing, with 819 million rand earmarked for Mango and just over 1.6 billion for SAA Technical.

“Despite the effective date of this Act, the appropriation for the subsidiaries … must be regarded as an appropriation and expenditure for the 2020/21 financial year,” read the Bill.

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