Government drops Covid rules on masks, gatherings and…

Health Minister Joe Phaahla has scrapped some of South Africa’s latest Covid-19 regulations, ending the mask mandate, limits on gatherings and checks on travelers entering the country.

On Wednesday, Phaahla signed a document repealing Sections 16A, 16B and 16C of the Surveillance and Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions Regulations made under the National Health Act.

This means that regulations stipulating that people in indoor public space, including public transport, must wear face masks no longer apply.

Regulations on public gatherings have also been repealed. They said indoor gatherings should be limited to 50% of a venue’s capacity, where attendees can present proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, or a maximum of 1,000 people. Outdoor gatherings faced similar restrictions, but capacity was limited to 2,000 people.

Travelers coming to South Africa previously had to present proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test and would be subject to an antigen test if they did not comply. These regulations have now been removed.

Phaahla’s decision to repeal the regulations follows a letter he sent to colleagues on Monday noting the recent drop in the number and severity of Covid-19 cases. Phaahla said the regulations were passed when “the state of the epidemic was very concerning and unpredictable”, when there were still concerns about the Omicron variant and potential new subvariants.

Citing data from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), the minister said there had since been a drop in the number of reported cases and hospitalizations. The virus’s reproduction rate, test positivity rate and reported deaths had all declined.

The NICD reported 1,028 new cases on Wednesday and a positivity rate of 5.3%. It reported 57 Covid-related deaths, six of which had been reported in the previous 24-48 hours, bringing the total number of official coronavirus-related deaths in South Africa to 101,697. The unofficial toll is believed to be much higher .

“We are monitoring the outbreak, in conjunction with the NICD, and current epidemiological analysis indicates a decline in infection rates and the country is off the recent peak (“5th wave”), current limited regulations have been enacted to mitigate,” Phaahla said in her letter.

He recommended repealing the mask mandate, gatherings and travelers regulations and his proposal appears to have been approved by Cabinet, which sat on Wednesday.

The regulations were due to be challenged in court this week by the Sakeliga group of companies. Phaahla is due to brief the media on the outcome of Thursday’s Cabinet meeting with Minister for the Presidency Mondli Gungubele. DM

Sara H. Byrd