Covid-19: Mask rule may be gone, but Phaahla advises people to remain cautious

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Minister of Health Joe Phaahla.
Minister of Health Joe Phaahla.
Alfonso Nqunjana
  • Health Minister Joe Phaahla repealed the last of the Covid-19 restrictions in the country.
  • But Phaahla says people are still encouraged to wear masks.
  • He says the department will continue monitoring the disease.

Even though the government has repealed all Covid-19 regulations, people should not be embarrassed to continue wearing masks, says Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

"We still encourage citizens, especially in indoor settings, to feel free to wear a mask. The masks have shown to be helpful in preventing the spread of respiratory diseases. Don't feel embarrassed just because government said it's [not] compulsory.  All that we are saying is, it is now in our hands to make those decisions."

From Thursday, for the first time in more than two years, South Africans were free to ditch their masks in public places.

Phaahla also removed restrictions on international arrivals that required a vaccine certificate or a negative PCR test. In addition, restrictions on gatherings were removed. 

READ | Lockdown: You can now fly around SA without a mask

Phaahla added that the government would continue to monitor the disease.

"There is no optimism that it will become endemic and remain like that. There is no certainty that we will not get a variant that will escape the immunity that we have."

He said vaccinations would continue to be available and would be integrated into normal health services.

Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said: "Half of all adult South Africans have, to date, received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose. Government aims to use the low-interest loan recently approved by the World Bank to purchase additional Covid-19 vaccine doses and ensure that the nation is adequately protected against potential infections."

Although the country did not meet the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population, it helped.

READ | Covid-19: So, what do we do with all of our masks now that they are no longer required?

"We take solace in that as [at] 22 June, 36 700 million vaccine doses have been administered to 20.09 million adults and 1.9 million children [aged] 12-17 [years], giving a total average of 50.48% with at least one dose. We applaud the big turnout of the 60-plus age group, who are at risk, with a 70.5% turnout and the next high risk [group] of 50-59 years, with a 66.17% turnout.

"We believe that the big turnout of the 50-plus age group contributed hugely to the reduced severity [of] hospitalisation and mortality witnessed in the fourth wave and [which is] persistent up to today."

The Free State is the only province which has reached 60% vaccine coverage. Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the North West and Mpumalanga are all below 50% vaccine coverage. 

Professor Koleka Mlisana, who co-chairs the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, said: "We need to move to a place [where we ask] how do we live with the virus like we have lived with the others. The individuals who say they will continue you use masks, I support those. We need to bring back the responsibility of prevention to communities."

She said wearing masks should become a culture, especially among healthcare workers.

"We know that they protect not just Covid-19, but other respiratory infections. The behaviour and wearing of masks must become a norm as a country. If you know you have flu or TB,  you must wear a mask to protect others."

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