Mandatory mask-wearing in public places and on public transport will remain in place, national health ministry spokesman Foster Mohale said on Tuesday.
Mohale said new guidelines regarding isolation and quarantine for those who test positive for the coronavirus will soon be finalized.
Revised protocols halting contact tracing and introducing much shorter quarantine periods and less strict time periods for isolation were issued by the Department of Health in December but were then recalled days later. Mohale stating that they considered all comments and additional contributions.
He said amended policies would be released soon, but stressed the wearing of masks was not abandoned.
The mandatory wearing of masks in public spaces, except for those exercising vigorously, was one of the first non-pharmaceutical interventions introduced by the government and has been in place for almost two years, with regulations threatening the owners of public transport such as taxis with penalties if masks are not worn.
A preprint article by a group of South African scientists examining the severity of Omicron infections found that there had been a significant drop in the number of infected patients experiencing serious events after being infected, compared to the devastating Delta wave that hit the country in winter last year.
During a briefing in late December when the preprint article was published, one of its authors, Professor Cheryl Cohen of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, said that if they had discovered that the latest variant was of significantly lower severity, they had also found that people infected with Omicron carried a “significantly” higher viral load in their noses than those infected with Delta.
The Omicron variant, which was first identified and described in South Africa and Botswana, has a greater number of mutations compared to previous variants and scientists are still trying to determine the impact of these mutations.
January 6th, Swiss Medical Weekly published a article by another group of scientists, analyzing and modeling data from 100,000 random samples, showing that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is an important route of infection, especially for the Delta and Omicron variants.
The article said that for the wild type of the virus (the original virus that was first released from December 2019), only a small proportion of those infected shed large amounts of virus.
“The currently prevalent variants of concern, Delta and Omicron, are characterized by higher viral loads and a lower minimum infectious dose,” the article states.
The researchers found that a much larger proportion of individuals infected with the new variants (Omicron and Delta) were high, very high or super emitters of airborne viruses – adding that the protection afforded by conventional masks will, therefore , greatly reduced.
Comparing transmission of the virus to the “original” wild-type virus, the authors said that 1 in 1,000 was a “super-transmitter” for this variant; for Delta, it was 1 in 30; and for Omicron, 1 in 20 or 1 in 10, depending on the viral load estimate used.
“Testing the effectiveness of protective strategies given the lower critical dose suggests that surgical masks are no longer sufficient in most public settings, while properly fitted respirators (such as an N95 mask) still provide protection. sufficient, except in situations of high aerosol production, such as singing or shouting,” said the authors, led by Michael Rediker of the Swiss Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States also kept its mask recommendation in place and updated its mask recommendation on Saturday to indicate that certain types of masks and respirators, most notably N95 and K95 respirators , offer more protection to the wearer than others, but adding that N95 surgical masks should still be reserved for medical personnel.
In its latest update released late last week, the World Health Organization also maintained its mask-wearing recommendation. SM/MC