South Africa considers ending Covid–19 restrictions

Health minister Joe Phaahla has asked provincial health authorities for their views on whether South Africa should repeal its Covid–19 regulations.

Phaahla wrote a letter to executive council members responsible for their provincial health departments.

The letter is dated Monday, 20 June 2022 and was circulated by South African doctors on social media late last night.

South Africa’s national health department has confirmed that the letter is authentic.

“The [letter] was sent to the MECs yesterday for them to comment on the proposals that are on the table,” Department of Health deputy director-general Nicholas Crisp told MyBroadband.

Crisp explained it is a statutory requirement that such consultations take place before regulations are promulgated or withdrawn.

Phaahla said the Department of Health has proposed to the National Coronavirus Command Council that all three Covid–19 regulations be repealed. These include:

  • Mask-wearing
  • Gatherings
  • Entry limitations into South Africa

“These regulations… were intended purely as a temporary stop-gap measure to enable the country to deal with the impending ‘fifth’ wave of Covid–19 infections,” Phaahla stated.

“At the time of their promulgation, the status of the epidemic was very concerning and unpredictable, and the Department needed to have some mitigating measures in place.”

Phaahla said that when they implemented the regulations on 4 May 2022, their analysis showed that reported cases had increased from 250 in mid-April to 4,693 by 1 May.

By 15 May, the figure had increased to 7,685 reported cases per day.

There was a question of whether the surge in cases was due to behaviour change after South Africa ended its national State of Disaster, or if a sub-variant of the coronavirus was responsible for a wave for the first time.

“Turns out it was the latter,” Phaahla noted.

Nicholas Crisp, National Department of Health deputy director-general for the NHI

The Minister said his department has been working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on monitoring the epidemic.

“The current epidemiological analysis points towards lower infection rates and that the country has exited the recent spike (‘5th wave’), which the current limited regulations were promulgated to mitigate,” Phaahla stated.

He said that as at mid-June 2022, the critical indicators are as follows:

  • Number of reported cases declined
  • Hospitalisations declined
  • Effective reproductive rate of the virus declined (less than 0.7%)
  • Positivity rate declined, though the number of tests done is also low
  • Reported deaths declined

Phaahla said they would discuss their recommendations to repeal South Africa’s Covid–19 restrictions with Cabinet in the next 48 to 72 hours.

“At long last coming to grips with the reality,” Wits University professor of vaccinology and infectious diseases expert Shabir Madhi said on Twitter.

“Effective end of Covid restrictions. Now to work on the collateral economic and other damage of what was self-inflicted due to stubbornness of not following the science.”

Now read: Legal challenge against South Africa’s “eternal lockdown” Covid–19 rules

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South Africa considers ending Covid–19 restrictions