/ 29 December 2021

Health department suspends revised Covid-19 quarantine and contact tracing protocols

Topshot Safrica Health Virus
People with the Omicron variety seemingly do not get as ill as people who contracted the Delta variety. (Photo by Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

The health department has temporarily suspended recently announced revisions to Covid-19 contact-tracing and quarantine protocols to allow for broader public consultation.

Under the revised provisions, the department had scrapped the requirement for contact tracing except in congregate settings or in the case of cluster outbreaks.

It also did away with testing and isolation for those that had come into contact with Covid-19 cases but were asymptomatic, while those with mild illness were permitted to self-isolate for up to eight days and those with severe cases for up to 10 days.

The revisions came after recommendations from the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee to scrap the quarantine and isolation requirement for asymptomatic contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19.

The committee said the proportion of people with some immunity from vaccination and/or previous infection was high, citing several sero-prevalence surveys. It added that containment measures were no longer appropriate mainly because of the emergence of more infectious variants like Omicron.

The committee was also of the view that the knowledge of the virus had evolved because there was a high proportion of asymptomatic disease, a high degree of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread, and that only a small proportion of cases were diagnosed.

In its latest statement, however, the health department said it was putting implementation of the revised policy on hold while considering comments and additional input received from stakeholders and the public.

This means that the requirement for all Covid-19 contacts to quarantine for 10 days and existing quarantine and contact tracing regulations will remain in place for longer.

An amended circular will be re-issued once the department is done considering the additional input, it said in a statement.