Zimbabwe will start taking delivery of a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine next week as it seeks to avoid a third wave of the pandemic.
The country is emerging from a second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak that began in January and led to the deaths of hundreds of people, including three Cabinet ministers.
Authorities say a third wave is likely unless an aggressive vaccination programme is implemented soon.
Zimbabwe says it wants to vaccinate at least 60 percent of its population or 10 million people to reach herd immunity and the doses from China will kick-start the vaccination campaign.
China pledged to donate 200,000 of its Sinopharm vaccine to the southern African country. And on Wednesday, Zimbabwe said it would also buy more doses from Beijing.
“The donation and initial batch purchased are expected in Zimbabwe by February 15, 2021 and the first week of March 2021, respectively,” Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa told journalists in Harare.
According to a vaccination roll-out plan presented in Cabinet this week, Zimbabwe mainly wants to get its vaccines from China, Russia and India.
“Efforts to procure other Covid-19 vaccines such as the Sputnik V from Russia are underway. India, like China, has also offered a donation and an option to purchase commercially and the modalities for the offer are still being worked out,” Ms Mutsvangwa said.
Zimbabwe has also enrolled for the African Union's vaccines programme, but it is reluctant to sign up for the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility, where Zimbabwe is guaranteed three million doses to cover 20 percent of the population.
The Covax facility is meant to assist the world’s poor countries to access Covid-19 vaccines for free.
Some government officials accuse the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe’s former colonial power and key Covax funder, of trying to arm-twist President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government into signing up for the facility.
“Zimbabwe will take decisions independently in the national interest,” Ms Mutsvangwa said without elaborating.
The British embassy in Harare said Zimbabwe will not be forced to join Covax and the doses set aside for the country will be given to other beneficiaries.
“An initial allocation of 1.15 million doses has been set aside for Zimbabwe before July,” the embassy said.
“These vaccines will be free of charge…The UK doesn't benefit from Zimbabwe taking part. Indeed, if Zimbabwe does not take up the vaccines, that allocation will go to another country.”
The Zimbabwean government says it has set aside $100 million for the purchase of vaccines and has appealed to the private sector to help finance the vaccination programme.
As of February 9, Zimbabwe had recorded 34,781 positive cases with 29,289 recoveries and 1,353 deaths.
The number of infections has been going down significantly in recent days following a national lockdown imposed at the beginning of the year.