The Department of Health has stopped all COVID-19 quarantine with immediate effect. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated contacts.
Contact tracing will also be stopped with immediate effect except where there are cluster outbreaks.
The statement further reads that asymptomatic individuals are not required to isolate but to do self-observation for 5 to 7 days. There is also no need for a COVID-19 test to be done prior to returning to work after 8 days of isolation.
All those infected with the virus should return to work after 8 or 10 days of isolation with no further testing required after the isolation period.
The move was “based on advice from our scientists that it is not really having an impact anymore”, deputy health minister Sibongiseni Dhlomo told local broadcaster SABC, adding it did not replace existing guidance on things like social distancing and mask-wearing.
The department’s statement said factors that influenced the move included: the emergence of highly infectious variants like Omicron; estimates that at least 60% of the population have some protection from vaccination or infection; and new information including on the high level of asymptomatic cases and small number of actual cases diagnosed.
Dhlomo said vaccination rates among the country’s high risk populations were 66% in those over 60 years old and 63% in 50-59-year-olds.
Harry Moultrie, from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, backed the changes.
“South Africa cancels contact tracing and quarantining and pivots to mitigation. Good decision,” he said in a tweet.
In a Christmas Eve address, deputy president David Mabuza said the country had come a long way since the start of the pandemic.
“We have edged closer to reclaiming our normal lives and freedoms,” he said, encouraging more people to get vaccinated.
South Africa remains in the lowest level of a five-tier lockdown system. While Omicron has driven a sharp rise in infections, these have not been accompanied by the increases in hospitalisations and deaths seen during previous waves.-Additional reporting by Reuters