Visiting South Africa, France’s Macron pledges vaccine help

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrive at the University of Pretoria Future Africa in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday May 28, 2021. Macron and Ramaphosa are launching a program to support African vaccine production, a project backed by the European Union, the United States and the World Bank. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — On a visit to South Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that his country will provide millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to help African countries speed up their inoculation drives.

Macron pledged that France will help South Africa and other African countries to develop the capacity to produce their own vaccines to fight the pandemic.

Macron met President Cyril Ramaphosa in the capital, Pretoria, on Friday and said he supports lifting the barriers preventing Africa from producing its own vaccines, but he said the immediate priority is to increase the supply of vaccines to Africa.

“Trying to lift the hurdles in order to allow vaccine production in South Africa and all of Africa, we are in favor of that,” said Macron at a press conference with Ramaphosa.

“But what is the problem we are trying to overcome? What we need to do is vaccinate as soon as possible, as many people as possible. It is a matter of duty and solidarity,” he said.

“The more time it takes, the more the virus is likely to mutate and to come back,” Macron said, adding that richer countries should provide any excess doses they have to poorer countries as quickly as possible. He pledged that France will donate more than 30 million vaccine doses by the end of the year to the U.N.-backed COVAX global vaccine initiative.

South African’s mass vaccination campaign has begun slowly, with only 761,903 people vaccinated so far from a target of inoculating about 40 million people by February next year. The government is working to speed up vaccinations as experts warn of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 ahead of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter which starts in June.

Vaccinations have been slow across the African continent. So far just 28 million doses of vaccines have been administered in Africa, representing less than 2% of the continent’s population of 1.4 billion. Worldwide more than 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered,

Macron also announced that France is prepared to assist neighboring Mozambique to battle an extremist insurgency in its north that has displaced more than 700,000 people.

French companies have significant investments in Mozambique, notably the $20 billion investment in a liquified natural gas project by French energy company Total, which was halted in March as a result of the extremist violence in the Cabo Delgado province.

“We are well aware that Mozambique is currently dealing with jihadi groups which are threatening the security of the region, particularly in Cabo Delgado. We are of course monitoring the situation with a great deal of concern,” said Macron.

“We are available to help but within the context of a political solution which should firstly be requested by Mozambique, but secondly be structured by the Southern African Development Community,” said Macron, referring to the 16-nation regional bloc of which both South Africa and Mozambique are members.

He said France is ready to provide military resources required by Mozambique and the regional group.

Ramaphosa said the regional body “stands at the ready to assist Mozambique to ward off these insurgents and to ensure that we return and restore peace and stability in Mozambique.”

On Thursday, leaders of the Southern African Development Community met for a summit in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, over the crisis. The leaders delayed making a final decision on sending regional troops to Mozambique.

Macron’s state visit to South Africa comes a day after he visited Rwanda where he said he recognized that France bears a heavy responsibility for the 1994 genocide in that country that killed an estimated 800,000 victims.

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