Less than a week after opposing a lawsuit accusing him of giving communities too little time to comment on new health regulations, Health Minister Joe Phaahla did an about-face on Thursday evening and extended the three-month comment period until July.
Action 4 Freedom filed an application to strike down the regulations on the grounds that the Minister failed to provide the mandatory three months for comments, but the high court fired their candidacy earlier this week.
Late on Wednesday night, Phaahla appeared issue in a hurry a new set of regulations to prevent, among other things, the rules on wearing a mask from falling. But by Thursday afternoon, the department had backflipped one of its public statements — and rescinded it again.
The chaotic handling of the release of new health regulations for Covid-19 comes as South Africa experiences a steady rise in cases, likely due to Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, with rates of positivity (percentage of positive tests) tops 20% on working days over the past week.
As of Thursday evening, Sinehlanhla Jimoh of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said there had been 9,757 new cases of Covid identified in South Africa. She added that this represents a positivity rate of 25.7%. More than 1,500 of the new cases are people who have had Covid in the past.
Last Friday, the Superintendent General of the National Ministry of Health, Sandile Buthelezi, assured the public that he would be able to process all comments on the new regulations and publish a final set of rules by Thursday (May 5). ), but that doesn’t seem to have happened.
What are the new interim rules?
These are some of new provisional regulations published Wednesday evening:
- Wear a mask covering your mouth and nose in indoor public spaces. No need to wear a mask outside.
- A mask must be worn by anyone traveling on public transport.
- A gathering is defined as an assembly or gathering of more than 100 people.
- For any indoor and outdoor gathering, a maximum of 50% of the capacity of the venue may be occupied, provided that each participant is vaccinated against Covid-19 and produces a valid vaccination certificate. Alternatively, attendees must produce a valid negative Covid-19 test result no more than 72 hours prior to the date of the gathering. If it is not possible to comply with this indoor gathering requirement, attendance should be limited to 1,000 people or 50% of capacity, whichever is smaller, while attendance at an outdoor gathering should be limited to 2,000 people or 50% of capacity, whichever is lower. is smaller.
- Hotels and other hospitality establishments are allowed to operate at 100% capacity if guests wear masks in common areas.
- All international travelers arriving at South African ports of entry must produce a valid vaccination certificate; or produce a valid negative Covid-19 PCR test result dated less than 72 hours prior to departure date. Alternatively, travelers have another option to produce a valid negative test result for the Covid-19 antigen performed by a physician, registered public health authority or accredited/approved laboratory obtained no later than 48 hours prior to the travel date. departure.
- When an international traveler is unable to produce a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test result dated less than 72 hours, or a negative antigen test result obtained at least 48 hours before departure, he must undergo an antigen test at the point of entry. .
- If a person tests positive for Covid-19 in the antigen test, the traveler will still be admitted into the country but, if the traveler has symptoms of Covid-19, they must self-isolate for a period of 10 days after his admission to South Africa.
- Children and those who commute daily from neighboring countries are exempt from the travel rules.
- Covid-19 is designated as a communicable disease – this is a highly controversial move as many of the arguments against regulation include that the nature of the disease is no longer such that it is considered a communicable disease. Before Thursday, it was grouped with respiratory diseases caused by pathogens.
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What’s not in the new interim rules?
A highly controversial restriction on funeral gatherings and a provision for the forced admission of patients to a healthcare facility if they test positive for coronavirus but refuse treatment. Also provisions to force people to be tested for coronavirus infections and provisions for court orders to be issued for the forced isolation of patients. Some argue that these expansive regulations could open the door to mandatory vaccinations.
And if you want to comment?
The new closing date for submitting comments is July 5, 2022, and this extension is consistent with legal requirements and will allow the ministry sufficient time to review and consider all regulatory comments and representations.
Comments should be sent only to this email: [email protected]. The department, however, did not address a number of concerns that digital comment channels were prohibiting many people, especially rural communities, from commenting.
Not all members of the public who submitted comments during the initial public comment process need to re-submit those comments, as all comments already submitted will be considered as part of this process, the gatekeeper explained. – health spokesperson, Foster Mohale. He has yet to respond to questions about the outcome of an investigation into the complaints after scores of people who sought to comment received a message saying their emails had been deleted unread.
“In order to ensure that there is no gap in terms of legal instruments to contain the spread of Covid-19 and future reportable medical conditions, the department has published in the Official Gazette the regulations limited to implement effective Thursday, May 05, 2022,” Mohale explained. .
“The department would like to remind people that, despite the current process of collecting public comment on health regulations, it is still imperative to provide options to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and other reportable medical conditions. without invoking the state of national disaster. .
“Therefore, the public is reminded that Covid-19 remains a life-threatening disease and the country is not yet off the hook.
“The only way to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this pandemic and the growing number of positive cases is through vaccination and respecting preventive measures at all times.
“Those who are fully vaccinated are advised to consider booster shots to boost their immunity,” Mohale said.
At lunch on Thursday, it was time for another recantation.
Calling it a clarification, Mohale issued a statement saying, “The department also wishes to draw the public’s attention to the confusion created by unfortunate and regrettable human error in the media statement issued yesterday regarding the removal of the face mask worn by the children at school. This is not part of the official health regulations, and is therefore removed to avoid any misunderstanding of the regulations.
“Therefore, children, like other people, must continue to comply with the provisions of Regulation 16A on face masks in classrooms and general indoor gatherings, unlike outdoors in playgrounds and grounds. sport.
“Face masks are an effective non-pharmaceutical intervention against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and it is more relevant now that the number of positive Covid-19 cases is rising again,” Mohale said. SM/MC