There is no reason for South Africa's borders to remain closed, nor is there a need for arriving tourists to be quarantined for several weeks as even infected visitors are unlikely to lead to a massive outbreak, experts believe. As the country continues seeing a steady decline in Covid-19 infections, there seems to be no medical reasons for the borders to remain closed as the virus is now locally transmitted. This is something the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) would likely recommend to government, said MAC member and vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi. Speaking during a recent webinar, he said even if...
There is no reason for South Africa's borders to remain closed, nor is there a need for arriving tourists to be quarantined for several weeks as even infected visitors are unlikely to lead to a massive outbreak, experts believe.

As the country continues seeing a steady decline in Covid-19 infections, there seems to be no medical reasons for the borders to remain closed as the virus is now locally transmitted. This is something the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) would likely recommend to government, said MAC member and vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi.

Speaking during a recent webinar, he said even if international visitors were infected, they would pose little threat if they followed the pharmaceutical interventions put in place.

"I think there is very little reason for the borders to be shut. Opening the borders probably will have a nominal effect in terms of the future trajectory of this outbreak… We have a virus that is disseminated in terms of its transmission. Having a few visitors come across, even if they are infected with the virus, is not going to lead to massive outbreaks…"

"That is the advice I'd give [to government] and I'd expect many other members would provide similar advice because we are certainly not in this sort of space to contain viral transmission in South Africa, which is really when we need border closure," Madhi said.

Wits University of School of Governance Professor Alex van den Heever agreed, saying the virus was now a "localised disease" which would not be exacerbated by international tourists.

"Once this disease is localised, the fact that someone from overseas comes in is not going to feed the epidemic again because it is already there. The risk to passengers on the plane or people in hotels is managed by protocols in place. South Africa is in a position where it has to manage the risk of transmission with an opened economy, and that can be done if we stick to protocols," he said.

Furthermore, keeping arriving guests in quarantine for ten to fourteen days is no longer required, and is just an unnecessary waste of taxpayers' money, Mhadi said.

"If we are not doing quarantine of close contacts and we are not doing it on any measurable scale in South Africa on South Africans, there is almost no reason to be putting incoming visitors into quarantine… Right now, it is happening at the expense of taxpayers. I think it's a waste of money to be putting people into hotels at the expense of government," he said.

Seroprevalence and immunity in South Africa

Time to open the borders, say experts


Picture for illustration purposes. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP)

This does not mean the country is completely out of the woods yet, as revised models currently predict that about 20% of the population, detected and undetected, were or had been infected with Covid-19. This translated to about 12 million South Africans, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize said on Monday.

He said the department was conducting a national seroprevalence study to unveil the seroprevalence of the Covid-19 antibodies and the status of national immunity.

While the country showed a decrease in predicted Covid-19 related deaths, there could be several reasons for the apparent decline in expected hospitalisations and deaths, said Madhi.

"The one that I favour as an example is the possibility that there was some sort of underpinning immunity that was present in South Africans, possibly because of previous exposure to common cold coronaviruses and we know that exposure to those common cold coronaviruses… does induce some level of cross-protective immunity against [Covid-19]. That is one possibility," he said.

It is, however, premature consider anyone presenting with antibody prevalence as being immune, as immunity in terms of the Covid-19 virus is not yet fully understood, said vice president of research at the South African Medical Research Council, Professor Jeffery Mphahlele.

"Even if the studies are looking at antibody prevalence, we cannot translate this information to immunity. It is safe to say, antibody prevalence represents exposure to infection and we leave it there. It is not necessarily immunity," he said.

rorisangk@citizen.co.za

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