SA’s new Covid-19 rules: Masks stay on until the minister of health says otherwise

Business Insider SA

  • Hours before it was due to expire, South Africa's mask mandate was renewed, and is now at the pleasure of the minister of health.
  • Once health minister Joe Phaahla drops the mask mandate, he can re-impose it again at any time.
  • The new mandate is powered by communicable diseases rules rather than a state of disaster, but is unchanged in its practical implementation.
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Masks are still required in publicly-accessible buildings and on public transport, after a late-night update to Covid-19 rules on Wednesday.

Now it will be up to the minister of health to decree when masks are no longer needed – and to re-impose the mask mandate at any point after that.

Health minister Joe Phaahla published amendments to health regulations on Wednesday night, just hours before a 30-day set of transitional rules – put in place after the end of the national state of disaster on Covid-19 – automatically lapsed.

See also | SA has brand new entry rules for Covid-19, with antigen tests, recovery certificates, and symptomatic-only self-isolation

Covid-19 rules were previously powered by that national state of disaster. They now fall under what are properly titled the Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Condition, in place since 2017.

In their practical effect, the two major restrictions on public life, the mask mandate for indoor public spaces and restrictions on gatherings, are unchanged from the month since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the end of the state of disaster.

Anything appropriate that forms a mask over the nose and mouth is still required on all public transport, and to enter "an indoor public place".

As before, all gatherings are limited to 50% of normal occupancy. No more than 1,000 people may gather indoors unless proof of vaccination (at least one dose) or coronavirus test results are checked on entry; that number is set to 2,000 for outdoor gatherings.

Those restrictions will end when the minister of health says they end. After deciding that the restrictions "in part or in their entirety, are no longer necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19", the minister of health can deactivate them by notice in the Government Gazette, the new rules hold.

They can just as easily be turned back on again; the minister may also decide "at any time after having made such a determination that the measures concerned are once again necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19 and give notice of this determination in the Government Gazette, whereupon the measures concerned will resume operation," the new rules hold.

Meanwhile, a major overhaul of communicable diseases rules, which had been due to replace the Covid-19 rules this week, has been pushed back at least three months for further public consultation. 

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