South Africa ends quarantine and contact tracing

The South African government, supported by encouraging data showing Omicron variant infections are not as severe, has dropped quarantine restrictions for all people except symptomatic.

This includes allowing people who test positive but show no symptoms to gather with others, as long as they wear a mask and social distancing. A senior health official explained that since the variant spreads so quickly, there are likely many infected people who socialize with others and it no longer makes sense to quarantine only those who do. are tested.

The move was a further step towards a slow acceptance that many countries around the world will likely have to find a way to live with Covid, rather than avoid it. The new measures follow recommendations from an expert committee that called for a focus on vaccinations rather than contact tracing and quarantine.

“It is increasingly recognized that, in the face of a hyper-contagious variant like this, quarantine and isolation are no longer effective as public health containment measures to contain the virus,” said said Professor François Venter, researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand. in Johannesburg and former member of the committee.

The new protocols go into effect immediately, the health ministry said in a notice to heads of local health departments. The revisions were based on data showing that immunity from previous infections was as high as 80%. That, coupled with a vaccination rate of almost 45% among adults in the country, has reduced hospitalizations, the South African government said.

A high proportion of cases in South Africa were asymptomatic, so quarantine measures were biased in favor of people with symptoms. This was especially true during the recent wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant, in which cases have risen sharply, but just over 5% have led to hospitalizations.

“Containment strategies are no longer appropriate – mitigation is the only viable strategy,” said the advisory.

The new regulations are intended to benefit essential services, the ministry said. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly one in five public health workers have contracted the coronavirus, the health ministry said this month.

According to the new guidelines, people who test positive but asymptomatic will no longer need to self-quarantine. People with mild symptoms like fever, cough, and loss of taste or smell should always self-isolate for eight days. It is also no longer necessary to present a negative Covid-19 test before returning to work after isolation.

Ramphelane Morewane, acting deputy director general of the health department, said “most people walking around may be asymptomatic” and people who test positive but do not show symptoms should wear masks and take additional precautions to avoid transmitting the virus.

A Covid-19 test will be required if a person is exhibiting symptoms. Anyone who comes into contact with someone who tests positive would not need to self-quarantine and instead should do a “self-observation” for five to seven days and avoid crowded gatherings, the ministry said.

A booster of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be available from Tuesday for people who received their first dose at least six months ago or who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill. South African authorities have also authorized a recall of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The deployment of the Johnson & Johnson shot follows a local study of its effectiveness against breakthrough infections, including after detection of the Omicron variant. The study gave more than 230,000 booster shots, largely to health workers, and found that its protection against hospitalization was “at least equivalent to other vaccines,” the health ministry said. .

South African health officials have said they will not follow a recommendation from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Covid vaccines other than those from Johnson & Johnson should be preferred amid growing evidence that the vaccine can trigger a rare blood clotting disorder.

South African health officials have issued a cautious response, saying the CDC’s warning comes against the backdrop of the United States having “an abundance of vaccines.”

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, one of the study’s lead researchers, said data from South Africa showed that “in low- and middle-income countries this single-dose vaccine has great utility.” .

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