Minister for the department of health Joe Phaahla says that there is no need for travel restrictions or lockdown to deal with a new subvariant of Covid-19. The new subvariant was detected in South Africa this past week.

Alarms were raised when a new subvariant of the Covid-19 virus – XBB.1.5, or ‘was detected in Stellenbosch this past week.

Minister Phaahla said that the detection was in a random sample in the Western Cape. There isn’t a guarantee that it was even from a resident in the province, as it could have easily come from a traveler.


Phaahla stressed that the mutation wasn’t a new variant but rather a subvariant of the Omicron virus.

“What we do know is that the Covid variant of concern that remains dominant in the world is the Omicron variant,” said Phaahla.

“It’s only when there have been significant mutations in the makeup of the virus that it becomes a new variant.”

“Omicron remains the dominant variant at 97% to 98% of circulating infections. The Omicron has had over 100 sub-variants since it was detected,” he said.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla
Health Minister Joe Phaahla

There has been a 25% increase in Covid infections globally since the start of December, with 14 million new infections.

Japan, South Korea, the USA, China and Brazil are countries leading the increase, making up 70% of the new infections. The Omicron variant is still dominating in China, and the Kraken subvariant is becoming more prominent in the USA.

“While the subvariants or sub lineages have shown different levels of transmissibility, there has been no marked change in the levels of severity of infection,” Phaahla added.

The minister said that the government has consulted with the various advisory committees and the World Health Organisation over the subvariant, and in both cases, the advice received is that there is no need to impose travel restrictions on any country, including China.

There is also no need for any internal restrictions (ie, lockdown) in the country.


Increase the rate of Covid testing;

Encouraging people with symptoms to get tested and see their doctors;

Increase surveillance of wastewater testing for Covid, as well as samples from aircraft, particularly for travellers coming from high-risk countries;

Reinvigorate the vaccination campaign to encourage South Africans to get the jab;

Age and timeline guidance for booster shots will be updated in the next few days.