SA Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla says for now, government will not impose any internal restrictions as a result of the purported emergence of a newly found sub-variant of the COVID-19 virus.
According to the health department, the first instance of the XBB.1.5 sub-variant was detected in South Africa in December and reported earlier this month.
Phaahla explained that XBB.1.5 is a sub-variant of the globally dominant Omicron variant which presents less severe illness.
“We have consulted our Ministerial Advisory Committees and also the World Health Organisation … and in both cases the advice that we have received is that there is no need to impose any travel restrictions on any country, including the People’s Republic of China and that we also do not need to re-impose any restrictions internally in our country.
“The XBB.1.5 has been detected more in the [United States of America] where its prevalence is rated at about 6.8% of the circulating sub-variants.
“While the various sub-variants have shown different levels of transmissibility, there has thus been no marked change in severity of illness,” the minister said.
He added that “vaccinations have put South Africa in a strong position to fight COVID-19 infections” and reported no major effects on the healthcare system since the detection of the variant.
“We believe that the fact that the dominant variant of concern in China and in the world remains the Omicron and that the immunity of South Africans from vaccination and natural immunity is still very strong, puts us in a better position and in less risk.
“[That] is why we have not seen up to this stage any major changes in our epidemiology in terms of the rates of infections, also in terms of admissions to hospitals and even the rate of fatalities from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.