The South African Department of Health has said all Covid-19 contact tracing should be stopped with immediate effect.This is except where infections are picked up in congregate settings and cluster outbreaks.
In an updated memorandum, dated 23 December, the department said that “containment strategies are no longer appropriate” and that a mitigation strategy is the only viable way to curb transmission of the virus, especially in the context of the new Omicron variant
It noted there was new information about Covid-19, including high immunity levels in the population from prior exposure to the virus (around 60% – 80%) and/or vaccination; that there was a high number of asymptomatic cases, and that only a small proportion of infections were diagnosed through lab testing.
All contacts must continue with heightened monitoring strategies, such as daily temperature testing and symptom screening, of any early signs of Covid-19 infection. If they develop symptoms, they should be tested and be managed according to the severity of the symptoms, it said.Contacts must not be tested unless they develop symptoms, the department said.
The quarantine requirement for people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive should also be stopped with immediate effect, the department said. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated contacts.
No testing for Covid-19 is required – unless the contact becomes symptomatic.
Isolation of mild cases
Last week, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 advised that the isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 and are symptomatic be reduced from 10 to seven days.
According to the department, persons with mild symptoms should isolate for eight days. However, it notes that these individuals should continue wearing face masks at all times for the duration of the eight days – including at home, work, and in public spaces.
These individuals do not need to test for Covid-19 via a PCR or antigen test eight days after their isolation period and before returning to work.
In circumstances where isolation exceeds eight days, this must be supported by a medical report, the department said.
For individuals who are asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms), no isolation period is required.
The department advised individuals to do self-observation for 5-7 days for the development of any symptoms. They should also take precautions by avoiding spaces where there are gatherings, and continue to wear a face mask and practice physical distancing.
The isolation period for individuals with severe disease, described as those who test positive and have symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain, is set at 10 days after they have achieved clinical stability.
These individuals must also wear a face mask at all times for the duration of the 10 days of isolation. No PCR or antigen test is required after their isolation period.
Severe cases beyond the 10-day isolation period must be supported by the medical report, the department added.