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Vaccine opportunity boosted as China plans cold-chain link to ship to Africa

Opportunities for African countries to access COVID-19 has gained more boost as China prepares to supply its coronavirus vaccines to Africa using Addis Ababa as the logistics base and Egypt and Morocco as manufacturing hub.

The logistics network built by China, one of Nigeria’s top trade partners includes a cold-chain air bridge from Shenzhen to Ethiopia.

Earlier in December, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao Global said it had established the country’s first cross-border cold-chain route with Ethiopian Airlines, ready for the shipment of Covid-19 vaccines and other drugs.

The facility features an ultra-low temperature that would enable the transport of coronavirus vaccines to Africa. The cargo would be sent from Shenzhen to Africa weekly and then shipped to other countries via Addis Ababa.

Similarly, Shenzhen-based logistics firms China International Marine Containers and SF Express have developed facilities that enabled the movement of vaccines and drugs to other countries.

Egypt has received two shipments of coronavirus vaccines totalling 100,000 doses manufactured by Chinese firm China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) from the United Arab Emirates, which has been carrying out phase 3 clinical trials of the vaccine.

Morocco is using a Chinese vaccine to inoculate 80 percent of its adults. The country has ordered 10 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and also plans to produce the vaccine locally.

Sudan has ordered 8.4 million Covid-19 vaccines from China to be distributed in the first quarter of 2021.

There is growing anxiety in Africa that many countries will not gain full access to affordable vaccines until after the rich world has vaccinated its own citizens.

Top on Nigeria’s worry amid the brewing of a second wave of the pandemic has been how to obtain the vaccine early enough as the country looks to arrangements with Pfizer pharmaceutical company and COVAX for supplies.

The need for a vaccine is increasingly glaring as vulnerability to the pandemic among healthcare workers and people with weaker immune system rises alongside surges in daily new cases of COVID-19.

Removing the pandemic out of the way is expected to play a role in the imminent African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) anticipated to accelerate trade within countries.

With the pandemic raging further, concerns of reducing importation of disease through inbound travel might come in conflict with the hopes of trade easing in wake of economic recovery efforts by the government.

However, while some analysts count China’s effort as extension of foreign aid as many countries have done under the COVAX agreement, others see it as China’s strategy to exert soft influence on the continent, gaining diplomatic and economic benefits in return.

“Beijing has attempted to take a leadership role in coordinating and providing humanitarian assistance, asserting “donation diplomacy” to acquire political capital and legitimacy worldwide and in Africa,” Stephen Chan, a professor of politics and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London said.

But insisting on effort as an aid in a tweet, Wu Peng, China’s top Africa diplomat said China will actively consider providing vaccines to African countries in need to help secure an early victory against the virus.

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