South Africa U-Turns on Lifting COVID Rules Under ‘Political Pressure’
19:05 GMT 29.12.2021 (Updated: 12:53 GMT 10.11.2022)
President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered strict lockdown measures early in the coronavirus pandemic, banning the sale of alcohol, tobacco and even clothing among other restrictions. But public hygiene measures were undermined by lack of running water and sanitation in many crowded shanty-towns.
The South African government has reversed its decision to cancel most COVID-19 restrictions after coming under pressure from the media and its own ranks.
The Health Department said on Tuesday
it had been "inundated with media, stakeholders and public enquiries and comments since the release of the revised protocols on Contact Tracing, Quarantine and Isolation" on December 23.
"In line with the principles of transparency and openness, the department has decided to put the implementation of the revised policy changes on hold, while taking all additional comments and inputs received into consideration," said departmental spokesman Foster Mohale and Doctor Tshwale, media liaison to Health Minister Joseph Phaahla. "This means the status quo remains, and all prior existing regulations with regards to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation remain applicable."
The relaxion of the rules was based on an assessment
that attempts to contain the spread of coronavirus was now pointless, especially since the arrival of the far more-transmissible Omicron variant from neighbouring Botswana.
The department estimated that based on "sero-surveys", 60 to 80 per cent of the population had already been infected and gained natural immunity, while the great majority of cases were going undetected. It said many children who showed no symptoms of the disease were forced to miss valuable schooling after being ordered to quarantine due to contact with an infected person, while healthcare had been impacted by staff absence for the same reason.
Crucially it recommended that infected individuals showing no symptoms would no longer have to isolate, but merely practice "self-observation" for signs of the disease for five to seven days while wearing a face mask at all times. Contacts of the infected would not have to quarantine at all.
28 December 2021, 18:42 GMT
Criticism from the Medical Profession
South African Medical Association (SAMA) Chair Angelique Coetzee, the GP who helped discover the Omicron variant, had welcomed the move on December 23. On Wednesday she blamed
“political pressure” from other government departments for the reversal.
“This is political pressure, most probably from other departments that are putting pressure on the national department. This is our view,” Coetzee said.
The Rural Doctors Association of Southern Africa (RuDASA) said the December 23 rule changes were "scientifically sound" and a step in the right direction.
"The old guidelines, that had barely changed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, do not take into account the benefits of the high levels of vaccination amongst healthcare workers, nor the high levels of Covid immunity in the South African population (estimated at 80 to 90 per cent), and have put enormous pressure on small, understaffed hospitals and clinics in rural areas," the association said in a statement
"By far the biggest strain for us during this fourth wave has been trying to keep services going when healthcare workers have had to self-isolate, or needed to quarantine after close contact with a Covid case, usually a colleague," RuDASA stressed. "Yet in South Africa we are insisting that vaccinated, uninfected healthcare workers who are Covid contacts quarantine for a full 10 days."
South African current affairs website Groundup
editor Nathan Geffen argued the government's policy was now a "confused mess".
"This confusion comes while a good deal of the country is on vacation, and after nearly two years of lockdowns and restrictions that are now barely adhered to or enforced," Geffen wrote.
"The reversal further undermines confidence in government, and will likely worsen whatever poor adherence there is to Covid protocols. It sends this signal: the government is weak and unwilling to stand by its own decisions."