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UPDATE 1-South Africa secures 20 million COVID-19 vaccines, Ramaphosa says

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JOHANNESBURG, Jan 11 (Reuters) - South Africa has secured 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines which are expected to be delivered mainly in the first half of the year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday, as the country battles a faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus.

Ramaphosa’s comments come after some scientists and health workers publicly expressed frustration at the pace at which the government was accessing COVID-19 vaccines.

The country reported a new peak of more than 21,000 daily infections last week, taking total COVID-19 cases to more than 1.2 million, the most on the African continent. Coronavirus deaths now exceed 33,000.

“While there are several promising negotiations with a number of different manufacturers that still need to be concluded, we have to date secured 20 million doses to be delivered mainly in the first half of the year,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation.

“We will make further announcements as we conclude our negotiations with vaccine manufacturers.”

The health ministry said last week it would receive 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot from the Serum Institute of India for frontline health workers, spread over January and February.

The government has also had discussions with vaccine manufacturers including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, as well as with ones in Russia and China.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday that South Africa aimed to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of its population, against COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity.

The government on Dec. 28 tightened COVID-19 restrictions, moving the country to the third level of a five-level alert system, from level 1 previously.

Ramaphosa said on Monday that “level 3” restrictions would remain in place, including a ban on the sale of alcohol. Among new measures, Ramaphosa said 20 land ports of entry would be closed for general entry and departure until Feb. 15. (Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Alexander Winning; Editing by Chris Reese)

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