China considers providing Covid-19 vaccines to SA and Africa

CHINA will ‘actively consider’ providing its Covid-19 vaccines directly to South Africa and other African countries. This would be in addition to Beijing’s support for Covax, the global partnership between developed and developing countries to finance and get vaccines to poorer countries as soon as possible.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told last week’s virtual summit of BRICS that China would ‘actively consider providing vaccines to BRICS countries where there is a need.’

South Africa is a member of BRICS, with Brazil, Russia, India and China.

On Tuesday China’s new ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, echoed Xi when he noted that Beijing had already committed to providing vaccines to Africa through Covax, but would also ‘actively consider providing vaccines to countries in need.’

Chen was speaking at a webinar organised by South Africa’s National Press Club about China’s relations with South Africa and Africa. He said China would ‘deepen anti-pandemic cooperation and build a China-Africa community of health for all.’

Apart from vaccines, China would continue to provide personal protective equipment, send medical experts and share anti-pandemic experience with African countries.

‘We shall give full play to South Africa’s important role as a bridge for BRICS cooperation with Africa,’ Chen added.

‘Under the guidance of BRICS public health cooperation, we shall promote the development of the BRICS Vaccine R&D Centre, advance collective vaccine research and trials of BRICS countries, including China and South Africa, set up plants, authorise production and recognise each other’s standards.

‘We shall support Chinese enterprises in African countries including South Africa in conducting the Phase 3 vaccine clinical trials, and exploring the use of traditional medicine in the prevention and control of Covid-19, so as to help African countries defeat the pandemic at an early date.’

At the BRICS summit, Xi had said it was ‘important to step up international coordination and response and support [the] WHO’s crucial role in this endeavour.’

He said Chinese companies were already working with their Russian and Brazilian partners on Phase 3 of clinical trials of vaccines. ‘And we are prepared to have cooperation with South Africa and India as well.’

China had designated its own national centre, to support the development of the BRICS Vaccine R&D centre, Xi said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted the BRICS summit, said cooperation among BRICS countries to fight the Covid-19 pandemic had intensified. He recalled that five years ago the BRICS countries had already agreed to work in concert to counter the spread of infectious diseases including the new coronaviruses. As a follow-up, BRICS had established an early warning mechanism for epidemics.

Putin noted that Russia had concluded agreements with India and Brazil to hold clinical trials of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine and had signed accords with Chinese and Indian pharmaceutical companies to produce the vaccine on their soil, not only for their domestic consumption, but for export to developing nations.

He said Russia had registered a second anti-Covid-19 vaccine and a third was in the pipeline.

‘So, we have Russian vaccines at hand and they are effective,’ Putin said, adding that all BRICS countries should join hands to scale up production of the vaccines.

It was also paramount to establish the BRICS Vaccine R&D Centre which the BRICS leaders had agreed on three years ago at their summit in South Africa.

Meanwhile, at the National Press Club webinar on Tuesday, Chinese ambassador Chen said China was also helping to relieve the economic burden which the pandemic had imposed on African countries.

‘In spite of its own difficulties, China has fully implemented the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and put off debt repayment totalling over $1.3bn.

‘China supports the decision on DSSI extension and will continue to work with other parties for its full implementation.’

The G20 and the Paris Club of 22 official bilateral creditors launched the DSSI in April, to suspend the debt service payments of the poorest countries from May 1 to December 31 2020. This was to allow them to divert the debt service payments to fighting the pandemic.

Last weekend the G20 agreed to extend the DSSI for six months until 30 June 2021 and then again until the end of 2021 if that proved necessary.

The G20 also agreed to go beyond the DSSI by permanently reducing or reducing the debt of the most indebted poor countries. Chen endorsed the latter plan this week when he said: ‘China will increase the level of debt suspension and relief for countries facing particular difficulties.’

So far 29 African countries, with combined debt service payments of about $5.3-billion, have agreed to participate in the DSSI.

Chen recalled that China had also agreed to cancel interest-free loans which were maturing by the end of 2020 to ‘relevant’ African countries.

‘China calls on the international multilateral financial institutions and private creditors to increase support to the African countries which are severely hit by the pandemic, including debt restructuring and the further extension of the debt relief period,’ Chen said.

‘We hope these measures will help African countries alleviate their current economic burdens. China is ready to take stronger actions to support African countries in tiding over the current difficulties and achieving self-sustainable economic development.’

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