Planespotter forums are abuzz after an unusual charter cargo plane from Mumbai landed at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport on Tuesday morning.
Speculation by enthusiasts, who track the movements of planes as a hobby in closed Whatsapp and Facebook groups, is that this arrival could be carrying the first batch of South Africa’s keenly-awaited vaccines, or material relating to the vaccines.
Hifly, a Portuguese-owned charter company, was used during the first lockdown for repatriation purposes.
On a statement on its website just before Christmas, Hifly said: “We are ready to safely transport Covid-19 vaccines all over the world.”
According to the operator history on PlanespottersNet, this particular Airbus A330-202, with registration CS-TQP, was reconfigured to carry “Cargo (Covid-19)” in December last year.
Mumbai is the nearest big city to the Serum Institute of India, which is in Pune, in Maharashtra state.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Monday said one million doses of the vaccine was expected in South Africa by the end of January.
It was generally expected that the vaccines would arrive on Friday, with the Gauteng health department having announced they expect to start rolling out the vaccines on Monday.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) last week gave the green light for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is manufactured in India.
Health department spokesperson Lwazi Manzi would neither confirm nor deny that the vaccines have landed, but added News24 to a health communications Whatsapp group, where she said the arrival of the vaccines would be announced.
Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale referred queries on the matter back to the health department.