South Africa ends Covid–19 restrictions

After two years, two months, and 26 days, South Africa’s lockdown is finally over.

Health minister Joe Phaahla quietly published a notice in the Government Gazette on Wednesday repealing South Africa’s Covid–19 regulations.

An announcement regarding the regulations was only expected later this week after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet met on Thursday.

“I Mathume Joseph Phaahla, Minister of Health hereby repeal Regulations 16A, 16B and 16C of the Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions… in their entirety,” the two-paragraph notice states.

“The repeal of the Regulations concerned will come into operation on publication in the Gazette.”

Regulation 16A dealt with mask-wearing, 16B contained the regulations on gatherings, and 16C were the regulations for international travellers entering South Africa.

Phaahla’s repeal of the regulations comes after he wrote to provincial health MECs on Monday asking for their views on doing away with the rules.

Several doctors leaked the minister’s letter online on Monday evening.

Health department deputy director-general Nicholas Crisp told MyBroadband that it is a statutory requirement for the minister to conduct such consultations before regulations are promulgated or withdrawn.

Phaahla said in his letter that the regulations were intended as a stop-gap measure for South Africa to deal with the impending “fifth wave”.

The fifth wave has come and gone since the regulations were promulgated on 4 May.

The minister said his department has been working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on monitoring the epidemic. As of mid-June, the critical indicators showed:

  • Reported cases declined
  • Hospitalisations declined
  • Effective reproductive rate of the virus declined to under 0.7%
  • Positivity rate declined, though the number of tests done is also low
  • Reported deaths declined

For these reasons, Phaahla said the National Department of Health had planned to recommend to cabinet that the regulations be repealed.

Various medical and public health experts have campaigned for months to stop PCR and antigen testing at South Africa’s borders and allow the full reopening of the tourism sector.

They also advocated for the relaxation of mask mandates, ending all restrictions on outdoor activities, and removing most restrictions on indoor activities.

The experts called for the government to be “single-mindedly focused” on the vaccine programme and protecting health facilities from the impact of large numbers of admissions.

Since these early calls to do away with most of South Africa’s lockdown restrictions, updated data emerged showing that over 80% of South Africans had some Covid-19 immunity due to being vaccinated, contracting the virus, or both.

University of the Witwatersrand vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi said in March that the world had reached a turning point in the pandemic,

Although he reiterated calls to increase vaccine coverage for people over 50, he also said it was time for government to shift its focus.

“It’s time to rebuild livelihoods, economies and all other facets of life that were affected over the past two years. This is particularly true in fragile low and middle-income countries,” Madhi said.

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South Africa ends Covid–19 restrictions