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Masks encouraged, but no drastic response to Covid mutation

by Zahid Jadwat

Members of the public are free to exercise non-pharmaceutical precautions against the ‘Kraken’ subvariant – XBB 1.5 – such as masking up and sanitising, said the health ministry spokesperson Foster Mohale. There will, however, be no drastic response to the Covid mutation just yet.

Speaking in an interview on Salaamedia, Mohale said the department was monitoring developments in other countries. However, mask mandates have not been reinstated – contrary to rumours on social media.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in China and other parts of the world,” he said, noting that international developments could have a ripple effect locally.

The global number of Covid-19 cases is on the rise, with 14 million new infections since the start of December. The countries leading the increase are Japan, South Korea, the USA, China and Brazil – making up 70% of the new infections.


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Government’s response to Covid mutation

At present, the South African government has decided not to reinstate earlier measures such as travel bans, mask mandates and social distancing. They have instead encouraged the public to get vaccinated and practise non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“There’s no need to worry about what’s happening in China, the US and other parts of the world. What we need to do is take vaccines in majority so that if that situation happens to land in South Africa, the majority of our people are protected,” said Mohale.

Mohale also sought to dismiss the idea that the new subvariant emerged from the Western Cape, explaining that the laboratory was merely located at a university in that province.

“The scientists are based in the University of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape so that does not necessarily mean that it was detected in the Western Cape. If you make some findings… if your office is based in Johannesburg, it does not mean that all the fingers must be pointed around Johannesburg.”


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International response

On Sunday, China opened its borders to the world for the first time after nearly three years. Beijing had come under immense pressure over its zero-Covid policy which had disrupted the lives of its citizens since 2020, with outbreaks often prompting abrupt lockdowns in that country.

The decision to open its borders sparked concerns of a global resurgence, with nearby South Korea and Japan swiftly imposing travel restrictions. Both countries have limited flights and require tests on arrival, with passengers showing up as positive being sent to quarantine.

More than a dozen others, including the US, Australia and some EU states, imposed requirements for Chinese visitors to produce negative test results.

Such measures have not been pursued by local authorities, who have instead opted to increase testing, vaccination and surveillance.

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