JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is regaining momentum after being disrupted earlier this month by a week of riots sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma, the country’s acting health minister said Friday.
At least 120 pharmacies, including 71 that were vaccination sites, were damaged and closed during the unrest in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, acting Health Minister Mamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said. More than 47,000 vaccine doses were destroyed when the sites were ransacked, she said.
“The social unrest has added to the complexity of our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kubayi-Ngubane said, adding that the “violent nature of the protests unsettled the health care system as a whole.”
At least 337 people died during the riots, including 213 deaths that police are investigating as possible murders, the government has stated. Major highways to Durban, one of Africa’s busiest Indian Ocean ports, were also closed and barricaded, with more than 27 trucks burned in KwaZulu-Natal.
Police also are investigating 132 cases of arson, including the burning of 11 warehouses and 8 factories. Property worth an estimated 20 billion rand ($1.37 billion) was destroyed in KwaZulu-Natal. The violence was finally quelled when 25,000 army troops were deployed.
South Africa is battling a resurgence of COVID-19. The country reported 14,858 new infections and 433 deaths Friday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination rates dropped as a result of the unrest, but have picked up pace. South Africa gave shots to more than 220,000 people per day this week and aims to increase the number to 300,000 jabs each weekday next week.
More than 6 million South Africans have received at least one shot and 1.6 million are fully vaccinated with two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vacchine. The country has now opened vaccinations to everybody above age 35.
The government has said it aims to have 67% of South Africa’s 60 million people fully vaccinated by February.
With 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, South Africa accounts for more than 30% of the 6.3 million cases reported by all 54 countries in Africa, according to the Africa CDC.