With the much-anticipated arrival of South Africa's first batch of the COVID-19 vaccination today, President Cyril Ramaphosa has rallied every sector of society to play its role in ending the pandemic and resuscitating the economy.
The President made the call during the Annual National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) Labour School, held virtually under the theme, 'Economic Recovery, Collective Bargaining and Labour Reform'.
The President, accompanied by Deputy President David Mabuza, will receive South Africa's first consignment of the COVID-19 vaccine at OR Tambo International Airport this afternoon.
The Deputy President chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccines.
The first shipment of one million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) left the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai on Sunday.
"In South Africa, in other parts of the continent and, indeed, the world, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to infection and have less access to quality healthcare. They have fewer resources to withstand the huge impact of the pandemic and are the first to lose their jobs," said President Ramaphosa.
The country's priority, he said during the virtual address, must be to focus on the "single-mind determination to bring to an end the pandemic, as quickly as possible".
"From the onset of this pandemic, some people have presented our response as a clear choice between containing infection and keeping the economy alive.
"We have found that this is a false choice. The restrictions have had a severe impact on employment and the economy. But these effects would have been far worse and probably last much longer had we allowed the pandemic to further decimate our population, not to mention the unbearable human cost," the President said.
During this period, government had to contain infections, while limiting disruption to the economy.
South Africa's rollout of the inoculation programme will be in three phases, with healthcare workers vaccinated in the first phase.
The second phase will include essential workers, teachers, the elderly and those with co-morbidities.
The third phase will then include other adults in the population.
President Ramaphosa said a comprehensive rollout strategy and logistical framework will have to be implemented in consultation with labour, the private sector, religious and traditional leaders, the public sector and various sectors of society.
South Africa, he said, is now entering a new phase of fighting the pandemic with the arrival of the first batch of the vaccine.
"Now is the time to work together with urgency and determination to restore our country to a path of inclusive growth and prosperity. It is vital that the vaccination programme is a society wide campaign in which everyone is involved.
"We are aware of concerns in some quarters that government has not been sufficiently transparent about these efforts. Organised labour has been prominent among those in society who, quite correctly, have sought answers from government on the details of the vaccination plan."
Beyond this, government will intensify its public health response to the disease.
"It doesn't mean that once vaccination has arrived, we throw away the other measures. Even as more and more people are vaccinated, we will have to continue with every instrument in our Coronavirus toolbox to contain infections.
"We will need to strengthen our healthcare system to ensure that it is forever ready for surges in infections," President Ramaphosa said.
The President reiterated that the pandemic, which plunged the world into turmoil last year, would continue to so in 2021.
"It will have an impact on almost every aspect of our lives, especially among the poor and working class.
"We accept these concerns. We are making all efforts to ensure that we not only improve communication but ensure that all social partners are more directly involved in the development and implementation of our plan."
The President highlighted South Africa's infrastructure build, which is aimed at stimulating economic activity.
"We have embarked on a massive infrastructure build and maintenance programme that will achieve massive objectives at once. We will stimulate economic activity and create jobs in the construction and related sector."
He said South Africa needs to proceed with the vital work of rebuilding the economy and recovering jobs that have been lost, in order to set the country on a new path of faster and inclusive growth.
"Each part of society will have to define its contribution to this effort. "
The President said labour will have to play its role in reaching millions of workers and ensuring that they are informed and empowered, and that they can access the vaccines at the appropriate places and at the appropriate time.
The President said the longer the pandemic continues, the longer the hardships will be endured by the working class and the poor.
"Our priority must be to bring an end to the pandemic as quickly as possible."
He emphasised that the creation of jobs is at the centre of the country's economic recovery plan.
"This is in order to get people back into jobs lost, and create more jobs for those who were unemployed before the pandemic.
"We have identified priority interventions to create employment on a large scale and in a short space of time," he said.