In a briefing held on Tuesday, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the National Coronavirus Command Council had approved refraining from implementing restrictions on travellers from affected countries, and no restrictions would be placed on South Africans.
Phaahla added that despite a 25% increase in cases worldwide in December, the health department had been monitoring international developments with the virus.
However, the decision was made to forgo placing restrictions on Chinese travellers as well as those from other countries that are seeing an increase in cases, like the US, due to the high levels of immunity among South Africans.
Phaahla said that Omicron is still the most common type of concern in South Africa, making up more than 97% of all cases.
Even though different subvariants have shown varying degrees of transmissibility, there hasn’t been a notable difference in the severity of symptoms in people who have contracted XBB.1.5.
“We believe that the dominant variant in the world remains Omicron and that the immunity of South Africans from natural immunity and vaccination is still very strong,” he said.
Phaahla stated that after consulting with experts and groups like the World Health Organization, the department had been told there was no need to impose any travel restrictions on any nations or internal restrictions either. He continued by saying that the department had been told to speed up testing and increase the number of samples sent for genomic sequencing.
Additionally, the department will also keep a closer eye on international flights from countries of concern and step up its surveillance of wastewater to track the prevalence of COVID-19 in the general population.
The department was also advised to “reinvigorate” its vaccination campaign.
“Vaccination remains the bedrock to protect us against any subvariant, and not travel restrictions, at this stage,” said Phaahla.