Johannesburg – South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Tuesday said that there is no need to impose restrictions for other countries with high Covid-19 infections following the detection of the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant in the country.
“We were not imposing any restrictions or travel requirements for China, the United States or any country with rising infections,” said Phaahla when briefing the media virtually about Covid-19.
A patient with the XBB.1.5 variant was discovered on December 27 during a random sampling, and further details remain unknown, he said.
The minister said they engaged scientists, the World Health Organization and the ministerial advisory committee, who suggested that there is no need to impose travel restrictions internally or for any country.
“We were advised to increase surveillance and vaccination. We will do wastewater testing on aircraft from China, the United States or any country with rising infections to check for the virus. We will step up our communication and messaging for people to get vaccinated or a booster,” he said.
Michelle Groome, an official at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said wastewater testing on aircraft would start next week as part of the surveillance.
In the meantime, the WHO has advised that countries should consider recommending passengers wear masks on long-haul flights to counter the latest Omicron subvariant of Covid-19, given its rapid spread in the United States.
Passengers should be recommended to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul flights, said WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, adding “this should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere there is widespread Covid-19 transmission”.