South Africa will stop contact tracing for coronaviruses and will not ask those who have been directly exposed to infected people to self-quarantine, signaling a drop of strict restrictions to contain the pandemic.
Authorities in Africa’s most industrialized country will only try to track the spread of the disease during a cluster epidemic, the country’s director-general of health said in a circular dated Thursday. Up to 80% of the population has some sort of immunity to previous disease or vaccines, the department said.
“Containment strategies are no longer appropriate – mitigation is the only viable strategy,” Sifiso Buthelezi said in the missive. “Quarantine has cost essential services and society dearly, as many people stay away from their jobs and lose their income as a result. “
While contact tracing in South Africa has been negligible compared to many countries outside the continent, the move still represents a change of approach, even as the highly transmissible variant of omicron continues to rage. The government declared a state of disaster when the coronavirus arrived in March 2020 and has since followed a system of restrictions based on the level of alert based on the prevalence of infections.
The rationale provided for the change in strategy “is that the quarantine process has no major effect in terms of chains of transmission and is difficult to implement and maintain,” said Adrian Puren, Acting Executive Director from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, in an e-mail response to questions.
The change may also be influenced by South Africa’s willingness to recover from its sharpest economic contraction in at least a quarter of a century last year. Economists polled by Bloomberg predict that gross domestic product will rise 4.9% in 2021, from a previous estimate of 5.1%, in part due to the travel bans that followed the emergence of omicron.
The country’s official unemployment rate is at a record high of almost 35%, with the lack of major sporting and entertainment events restricting even informal work.
Omicron was identified by scientists in South Africa and Botswana last month, and the region has led the latest phase of the global pandemic. Still, there are positive indications that the variant is not causing the same extent of serious illness and death as previous incarnations, and the South African government has therefore delayed stepping up containment measures.
According to a study released by the NICD this week, people who contract Covid-19 in the current fourth wave of infections are 80% less likely to be hospitalized compared to other strains. Meanwhile, there are indications that the outbreak may have already peaked in some areas, with the reproduction rate – or the number of people each infected person transmits the virus to – falling below one in Gauteng, the original epicenter of omicron.
This can be affected by the time of year, which sees many migrant workers and vacationers leaving Johannesburg and Pretoria for rural and coastal areas.
The seven-day moving average of confirmed new infections in the country fell to less than 17,000 from a peak of over 23,000 on December 18, although this data could also be skewed by reporting delays over the years. holidays and rationing tests. . Just over 9,200 Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalized, about half the number at the height of previous waves.
“Initial data shows that the interior provinces have peaked and Gauteng has a sharp drop in the number of cases,” Puren said. “This does not mean that we are above the fourth resurgence as there is still a build-up of cases and the coastal provinces have not reached their peak of infection.”