New COVID-19 isolation rules for South Africa

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has announced that the isolation period for patients confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 has been reduced from 14 days to 10 days.

Mkhize said the shortened period is in line with guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation based on recent global studies.

He said the change is based on evidence that most patients with mild COVID-19 infections continue to share the virus from their upper airways for approximately seven to twelve days.

“Furthermore, the presence of detectable virus when testing does not necessarily imply infectiousness,” said Mkhize.

“It has been proven that in mild cases, virus cultures are generally only positive for eight to nine days after the onset of symptoms.”

However, those with severe COVID-19 illnesses and symptoms may be infectious for a longer period.

It is recommended that such patients de-isolate at ten days after clinical stability has been achieved rather than ten days after the onset of symptoms.

“To illustrate this in simple terms, if a patient was admitted and placed on oxygen, we advise that when oxygen supplementation is discontinued, the patient must remain in isolation for another ten days,” said Mkhize.

This continued isolation provides clinical comfort that the patient is no longer infectious.

The health minister said asymptomatic patients represent a conceptual challenge.

“Since it is not possible to estimate where in the course of the viral shedding they are at the time point at which they test positive, we therefore advise that an asymptomatic patient must remain in isolation for a period of ten days following the date of their positive result.”

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New COVID-19 isolation rules for South Africa