South Africa’s identification of a new Omicron subvariant known as XBB.1.5 will not lead to the country imposing new restrictions on the population, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Wednesday.Phaahla said that XBB.1.5, which has caused one infection since its emergence, is a sub-variant of the globally dominant Omicron variant which so far has presented less severe illness in patients.
“We have consulted our Ministerial Advisory Committees — and also the UN World Health Organisation,” the minister said.
“In both cases, the advice that we have received is that we do not need to re-impose any restrictions internally in our country. And there is no need to impose any travel restrictions on any country, including the People’s Republic of China,” he added.
According to the minister, the XBB.1.5 has been detected more frequently in the United States of America where its prevalence has been rated at about 6.8% of the circulating sub-variants.
“While the various sub-variants have shown different levels of transmissibility, there has been no marked change in severity of illness,” he said.
“We believe 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,” Phaahla said.
“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.
The minister, however, said although no major restrictions would be imposed, he advised South Africans to continue taking precautionary preventive measures.
“Vaccination remains the bedrock to protect against any variant or sub-variant of Covid-19 — and not travel restrictions or any new restrictions at this stage,” he said.