No more face masks, says government

Health minister Joe Phaahla on Wednesday night repealed the regulations necessitating the need to wear masks, with immediate effect. 

Also repealed were the limit on public gatherings and vaccine status checks at ports of entry. 

The regulations were repealed “in their entirety” said the minister in the Government Gazette notice. 

The lifting of the remaining regulations has been anticipated since a letter ostensibly written by Phaahla was leaked on Monday. 

In the letter, Phaahla suggested dropping the remaining Covid-19 regulations, which he described as the “three critical control measures”. 

These include indoor wearing of face masks, limiting gatherings to 50% of capacity, and the need to present a negative Covid-19 test or a vaccination certificate when entering the country.

Phaahla said South Africa had exited its fifth wave and the regulations “no longer need to be in place at the present moment”.

The wearing of masks in public has been compulsory since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, although the rules were relaxed to scrap the requirement when outdoors.

Although the country’s national state of disaster was lifted in April, new regulations were put in place the following month relating to notifiable diseases in terms of the National Health Act and International Health Regulations Act. 

The move was widely criticised as giving the health minister sweeping powers to decide when regulations relating to notifiable diseases – including Covid-19 – could be lifted, and for how long. 

The amendments are being challenged in court by several civil society groups, with AfriForum calling them an attempt to “permanently enshrine Covid-19 regulations in law”.

Phaahla is expected to host a press briefing on Thursday about the lifting of the regulations. 

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