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Russia and China offer vaccines to broke Zimbabwe, says health official

RUSSIA and China have approached Zimbabwe about supplying vaccines to tackle its escalating Covid-19 outbreak amid concern about Harare’s ability to afford the shots, with plans for meetings with business leaders who have offered to pay for them.

Authorities in the impoverished nation are scrambling to contain the accelerating spread of the coronavirus. Infections have doubled in the past few weeks and three government ministers have died in the past 10 days.

Zimbabwean doctors say that hospitals are quickly filling up with Covid-19 patients and cite an increase in the number of infected people dying at home because they are unable to afford the steep fees charged by hospitals.

Authorities are now trying to establish whether a more infectious variant of the virus that was first discovered in South Africa is circulating in Zimbabwe, fearing it may have entered when thousands of citizens living in SA returned home for the December holiday.

Portia Manangazira, a director of epidemiology and disease control in the health ministry, told a parliamentary committee that China and Russia were among those that had approached Zimbabwe to offer supplies of their Covid-19 vaccines.

Russia hasn’t released late-stage phase 3 data on its vaccine, Sputnik V, which is largely shunned in the West, and little is known about the efficacy of the Chinese shot made by Sinovac Biotech. The Russian vaccine requires two doses.

‘They have near pre-qualified vaccines and those are going to be for sale … they might offer a small donation,’ Manangazira said, without elaborating.

Zimbabwe has recorded a total of 31,320 coronavirus cases and 1,005 deaths — more than half reported since the beginning of 2021, data released late on Sunday showed.

The recovery rate has fallen to 71 percent from 82 percent on January 1. Acting health secretary Robert Mudyiradima said President Emmerson Mnangagwa would on Tuesday meet business leaders who have offered to finance vaccines to help out the cash-strapped government.

Zimbabwe is also in contact with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Covax scheme, which was set up to deliver shots to poor and lower-income countries. Harare hopes to use Covax to inoculate about 3-million Zimbabweans, or 20 percent of the population.

The Covax scheme is due to be rolled out in February, amid growing criticism of vaccine inequity from both the WHO and others as wealthy countries inoculate millions of people using shots procured through bilateral deals.

Hungary and Mexico are among countries that are looking to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

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