Update on COVID-19 subvariant XBB 1.5

23 January 2023 | Dr Reno Morar

Dear colleagues and students

I write to update you on and share important information relating to the COVID-19 subvariant XBB 1.5.

You may have picked up in the news that the COVID-19 subvariant XBB1.5 has become dominant in a number of countries and that some have taken precautions to prevent its spread.

On 10 January 2023, the South African National Department of Health (NDoH) shared an update on COVID-19, including information on the highly transmissible XBB.1.5 variant.

The department notified the public that this subvariant had been identified in South Africa. However, the department mentioned that although it is more transmissible (spreads more easily), there is currently no indication of any change in the severity of illness and fatalities caused by this subvariant.

The NDoH emphasised that it remains important to be vaccinated and/or receive booster vaccinations in order to prevent severe illness and death. As this subvariant is more transmissible, the department encourages the wearing of masks and the continued practice of good hand hygiene (washing of hands regularly).

Testing for COVID-19 should be considered if you are symptomatic. Testing centres will continue to follow the relevant guidelines and protocols as the department advises from time to time.

Based on current available information, the NDoH will not impose restrictions on neither international nor local travel within South African borders. No COVID-19 restrictions have been imposed at UCT and the wearing of masks continues to be a voluntary practice.

Precautionary measures

We urge all within the UCT community to continue with our 3-V’s approach (vaccination, ventilation and vigilance) as set towards the end of 2022:

  • Vaccination – If you have not done so yet, you are encouraged to get vaccinated. If you are due to receive booster vaccine, you are urged to do so. A number of vaccination sites remain available.
  • Ventilation – We will continue working together to ensure our venues have sufficient ventilation by ensuring fresh air comes through open windows, and through mechanical ventilation or High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered air.
  • Vigilance – Please continue being vigilant and taking measures to minimise the risk of infection. These include:
    • appropriate cough and sneeze hygiene practices such as covering your mouth and nose
    • good hygiene measures such as washing hands frequently with soap and water
    • use of hand sanitisers and face masks, which are still available from the COVID-19 PPE Stores (Please contact ohs@uct.ac.za or Leslene.Stott@uct.ac.za or ext 1607).

Should you present with COVID-19 symptoms and test positive, please isolate for at least seven days. Please note that absence by staff from work or by students from academic activities will be treated as normal sick leave.

We wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2023 as the new academic calendar begins.


Dr Reno Morar
Chief Operating Officer

In July 2022, the University of Cape Town (UCT) revised its approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic on UCT campuses in 2022.
Read the latest document available on the UCT policies web page.

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