South Africa

UNICEF South Africa COVID-19 Situation Report No.19, 01 January - 31 December 2021



  • UNICEF supported the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme that scaled-up in mid-2021. Highlights included direct cold chain support to the Department of Health and playing a lead role in the Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) working group. This included social listening, data and evidence collection and community engagement, such as the UNICEF ‘multimedia truck’ and Zwakala campaign, encouraging vaccination and non-pharmaceutical COVID prevention. UNICEF reached about 50 million people with key messages during the COVID-19 campaigns

  • UNICEF supported the Department of Basic Education to keep schools open throughout the year. New data showed that rotational attendance resulted in a 75 per cent to a full year of lost learning. The development of a risk adjusted strategy to school opening and closing, as well as advocacy to build confidence among education stakeholders, pupils, parents, and caregivers helped to keep classrooms open safely as much as possible.

  • UNICEF scaled up its existing partnerships to tackle pre-existing child rights issues which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The broader impact of COVID-19 on children and young people was devastating throughout 2021, including a drop in routine childhood immunization coverage and primary health care visits, high levels of violence against children and youth unemployment and a rise in teenage pregnancies. UNICEF scaled up its existing partnerships to tackle pre-existing child rights issues that have only been exacerbated since the pandemic outbreak.

Situation Overview

The deadliest third COVID-19 wave hit South Africa hard in mid-2021. The vaccination of most medical personnel helped to provide some protection to frontline workers. However, the vaccine roll-out was yet to reach large number of people. Vaccination was opened to all, including children above the age 12 and older in South Africa in October 2021. The ‘Vooma Vaccination Weekend’ drives helped to regain momentum around the roll-out. By late 2021, youth aged 18-34 years of age, a cohort of 17.8 million people, had a vaccination coverage of only 32.8 per cent compared with the 67 per cent coverage of the 5.5 million 60+ cohort.

  • The Omicron variant that was first identified by South African scientists in December 2021 thankfully did not translate into large numbers of deaths and the fourth wave was milder compared to the previous three. The move to Alert Level One that was announced in October 2021 was maintained and the greatest economic impact was through the travel bans announced by countries outside southern Africa.

  • Since the identification of the Omicron variant in South Africa and in the wake of infections fueled by the variant, concerns over a fifth wave remain. Of particular concern are the 8.2 million people living with HIV in South Africa, particularly those who have missed treatments or don’t know their status and are immunocompromised individuals.

  • The implications of the widespread unrest that hit parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces in July continue to be felt, from an increase in child hunger in affected areas and access to education affected through damage and destruction of 144 schools.