South Africa says it is ending efforts to trace contacts of people infected with Covid as it believes most of the population have already been exposed to the virus.
Health Department chief Sandile Buthelezi said in a circular sent to provincial officials late Thursday that the government was now shifting to a mitigation strategy that stressed self-monitoring and measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
Buthelezi wrote that the "proportion of people with some immunity from infection and/or vaccination is high."
"Containment strategies are no longer appropriate -- mitigation is the only viable strategy. (This is) especially true of the newer, more infectious/transmissible variants like Omicron," he said.
"All contact tracing (will) be stopped with immediate effect," he added.
Exceptions will be made for enclosed settings like prisons and schools, and for serious clusters.
Contact cases are now being urged to watch for symptoms and only then go for testing.
Otherwise, they should avoid crowded places, make sure to wear a mask and respect distancing rules for five to seven days.
If they show symptoms and return a positive test, they should isolate for 10 days then resume their activities as normal with no requirement for a test if they have recovered.
South Africa is officially the most affected country in Africa, with nearly 3.4 million positive test results and more than 90,000 deaths from a population of 59 million.