Cancel the R10bn SAA bailout to pay for vaccines: John Steenhuisen

29 December 2020 - 09:47
By TimesLIVE
DA leader John Steenhuisen says the government should find the money for a Covid vaccine and help businesses affected by the lockdown.
Image: WERNER HILLS DA leader John Steenhuisen says the government should find the money for a Covid vaccine and help businesses affected by the lockdown.

The acquisition and provision of one of the four available coronavirus vaccines must replace lockdown if SA is to survive Covid-19, says DA leader John Steenhuisen.

“We understand that the resurgence in Covid-19 cases is dire for our country, but we knew at the beginning of this crisis that we would be grappling with the virus for 18 to 24 months. We now need to stock our arsenal with a finite solution to address this pandemic decisively and sustainably,” he said.

Steenhuisen said President Cyril Ramaphosa initially said that SA would receive the coronavirus vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. However, he said, this goalpost has now been shifted to the second quarter.

“There needs to be a simultaneous plan to massively improve public health care and get urgent access to a vaccine to begin a comprehensive rollout.

“The vaccination rollout is continuing apace across the EU and UK. In countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico, where the socio-economic circumstances are not dissimilar to our own, vaccines are already being rolled out nationwide at great pace.

“The SA government has no excuse for its negligence in this regard and owes South Africans an explanation.”

SA has now missed two payment deadlines for the first batch of the World Health Organisation’s vaccination programme, delaying the arrival of the vaccine to SA's shores, said the DA leader.

“A vaccine is now the only solution, and the only alternative to lockdown which is no longer a viable or sustainable means to curb the spread of the virus in our country.”

Steenhuisen said the government needed more in its arsenal than lockdowns and bans.

“The economy has suffered devastating losses after almost a year of crippling lockdown restrictions.

“It is also unconscionable that the government would seek to simply shut down certain industries without simultaneously announcing a single cent of relief programmes to bridge the economic devastation that this will wreak on the hospitality and restaurant industries,” Steenhuisen said.

“Cancel the SAA bailout and put that money towards expediting vaccine procurement and rollout and bolstering financial relief to affected industries. This would show true commitment to saving lives and livelihoods,” he added.

DA MP Ashor Sarupen said on Tuesday the party had written to finance minister Tito Mboweni, imploring him to scrap the R10bn bailout allocated to SAA in the second adjustment budget passed by parliament in early December, and to divert this funding to procuring Covid-19 vaccines instead.

He said the DA has also written to the chairperson of parliament’s appropriations committee — the committee that approves the budget — to hold urgent virtual public hearings on whether South Africans want the bailout that has been allocated to SAA to be reallocated to mass vaccination against the virus.