South Africa pauses plan to scrap Covid-19 contact tracing

South Africa paused a plan to end Covid-19 contact tracing and some quarantine measures to consider additional comments about the policy.

An amended circular will be issued once further contributions to the debate have been considered, the Department of Health said in a statement on Tuesday. The reversal comes after a deluge of inquiries from media, the public and others, it said.

Announced by the department last week, the shift in policy was initiated because as much as 80% of the population have some sort of immunity from prior illness or vaccines. The move was taken as a potential sign the government has decided to move away from imposing measures to restrict the various waves of the pandemic.

“Containment strategies are no longer appropriate — mitigation is the only viable strategy,” Department of Health Director-General Sifiso Buthelezi said at the time. Requiring people not experiencing symptoms to isolate deprives them of income or children of school time, according to the updated statement this week.

South Africa is currently battling a surge of the omicron coronavirus variant, which has delivered record case numbers but, so far, limited impact on hospitals, compared with the delta strain. The government hasn’t toughened lockdown restrictions to date.

Of the Covid-19 hospitalised patients, 75% were not vaccinated, Deputy Health Minister Sibongiseni Dhlomo said in an interview on broadcaster 702. Pfizer booster shots were made available this week to people that received their first vaccine in May, he said.

South Africa is waiting for data from scientists to confirm that the country may be exiting the fourth wave of coronavirus infections in some provinces, said Dhlomo. “It will probably be a pretty short wave.”

© 2021 Bloomberg