SA ramps up vaccine spending in "balancing act" amid debt worries

Date: Feb 24, 2021

South Africa could spend up to R19.3 billion ($1.33 billion) over the next three years to vaccinate most of its population, the Treasury said on Wednesday, in a “difficult balancing act” meant to contain COVID-19 while avoiding a debt spiral.

The fiscal position of South Africa, which is the African country hardest hit by the pandemic, was already weak before the coronavirus crisis and has deteriorated sharply over the past year, according to the 2021 budget presented to parliament.

The budget deficit is forecast to more than double to 14% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 2020/21 fiscal year, from 5.7% in the previous year.

The Treasury said a mass vaccination programme would help boost GDP growth to 3.3% this year following a severe contraction of 7.2% in 2020.

“This year we face an exceptionally difficult balancing act,” the Treasury said.

“On one side is a raging pandemic ... on the other side is a weak economy, with massive unemployment, that is burdened by ailing state-owned companies, the highest budget deficit in our history and rapidly growing public debt.”

The budget allocates R1.3 billion ($89.9 million) for vaccine purchases in the current fiscal year, which ends next month, while R9 billion ($622.2 million) is earmarked for the rollout over the medium term.

“Given the uncertainty around final costs, an estimated R9 billion could be drawn on from the contingency reserve and emergency allocations, bringing total potential funding for the vaccination programme to about R19.3 billion,” the Treasury said.

Africa’s most advanced economy is battling a more infectious variant of the coronavirus but has lagged wealthier nations in launching its immunisation campaign.

It is now planning to step up its vaccination programme, however, after administering the first doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week as part of a research study.

The government plans to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population.



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