Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
The science and innovation department has to date invested R68 766 000 (reprioritised from the 2019/20 and 2020/21 budget allocation) towards Covid-19 research and development activities.
The higher education, science and innovation minister, Blade Nzimande, highlighted this during a media briefing on plans for the reopening of Post School Education and Training Institutions amid the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.
The minister added that the “funds were approved to support COVID-19 Research and Development in the areas of diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, surveillance and epidemiology, including genomic epidemiology”.
In terms of vaccines, the minister pointed out that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has entered into an agreement with Kentucky Biological Products (KBP) for the potential manufacturing of the antigen of their vaccine.
According to the minister, the KBP vaccine is manufactured using specific tobacco plants.
“The CSIR has the ability to expand their current facility for plant-based expression systems to manufacture the antigen needed for the vaccine. KBP has also expressed interest in testing their vaccine in South Africa”, he said.
As regards Covid-19 variants, the minister confirmed that the department has allocated R25 million over the next 12 months to the KwaZulu-Natal Research Informatics and Sequencing Programme to complete the sequencing of 10 000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes in South Africa and the rest of the African continent.
“The funding will be used to understand the spread of COVID-19 and other virus lineages in Africa, and to support clinical and laboratory investigations of genomic variations in the country.”
The minister also announced that, in terms of the national science and innovation sector, a “Panel of Scientists will be convened to provide a platform for scientists to share with society on what science is saying about the role of vaccination in our fight against COVID-19”.
The implication of the new variant on current vaccines and myths about vaccination will be discussed.
Focusing on the Post School Education and Training sector, the minister confirmed that the 2021 academic year is set to open between early-March and mid-April this year.
The Community Education and Training College programme for 2021 will change in that lecturing and support staff will report at their centres on 1 February 2021 and the teaching and learning programme will start on 15 February 2021 for all programmes.
The approved 2021 Academic Calendar for Technical and Vocational Education and Training still applies and will be adhered to.
Students will return in a staggered manner on 25 January and 1, 8 and 15 February 2021.