The National Health Department on Tuesday revised contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols in South Africa, based on the latest Covid-19 data.
National Health Department minister Joe Phaahla’s media liaison officer, Doctor Tshwale, said these scientific factors included the immunity developed in individuals who are vaccinated, or who have received one dose.
Contact tracing in South Africa
Previous contact tracing policy
When contact tracing protocols were initially suspended on 23 December, officials said all quarantine was to be stopped with immediate effect for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
No testing for Covid-19 was required, irrespective of the risk exposure, unless the contact became symptomatic.
Isolation rules were still applicable for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, and workers were allowed to return to their place of employment after 10 days.
However, employers were encouraged to take into consideration the individual’s clinical status before allowing them to return to work.
Why contact tracing was suspended
The health department believed most of the population had already been exposed to the virus through either vaccination or infection.
Tshwale explained, “many people do not show any symptoms, and only a small percentage of them are diagnosed”.
However, other risks persisted.
For example, people – including children – who come into contact with Covid-19-positive individuals lose their income and valuable school time while isolating when they themselves don’t have symptoms.
Therefore, on 23 December, in the interest of transparency, the health department suspended contact tracing everywhere – except in prisons and schools.
Additional data required
At the time, a circular released by the department stated: “All contacts must continue with their normal duties with heightened monitoring (daily temperature testing, symptom screening) of any early signs.”
“If they develop symptoms then they should be tested and be managed according to the severity of the symptoms.”
The suspension was to allow for additional factors and scientific data to be taken into consideration.
Suspension now lifted
The previous revision meant contact cases would only have to undergo a Covid-19 test once they began to develop symptoms.
If they tested positive, they were to isolate for 10 days, and only then resume their activities as normal after recovery, without another test.
An amended circular will now be re-issued in due course, once all comments have been assessed.
In the meantime, the status quo remains, and all prior existing regulations with regards to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation are applicable.
Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe.