The recommended isolation period for patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 has been revised from 14 to 10 days.
Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced the revised isolation period during a briefing on Friday evening.
Mkhize said the decision to revise the isolation period was based on evidence that most patients with a mild Covid-19 infection continue to shed the virus from their upper airways for approximately 7-12 days.
“Furthermore, the presence of detectable virus when testing does not necessarily imply infectiousness. It has been proven that, in mild cases, virus cultures are generally only positive for 8-9 days after symptom onset,” Mkhize said.
“The duration of infectiousness in patients with severe disease (i.e. requiring admission due to clinical instability) is less well established. In general, patients with severe disease may continue to shed virus at higher levels for longer periods than patients with mild disease.”
The minister added that, to provide a buffer, it is recommended that such patients be de-isolated 10 days after clinical stability has been achieved, rather than 10 days after symptom onset.
“This continued isolation provides clinical comfort that the patient is no longer infectious.”
Mkhize said asymptomatic patients represent a conceptual challenge because it is not possible to estimate where, in the course of viral shedding, they are at the timepoint at which they test positive for the virus.
“We, therefore, advise that an asymptomatic patient must remain in isolation for a period of 10 days following the date of their positive results.”
Mkhize said these guidelines were provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and that the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) had also submitted an advisory regarding the isolation periods.
“Their (MAC)advisory proposed that the isolation period should be reduced to eight days. After considering this advice and the guidelines by the WHO, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), on recommendation by health, resolved to adopt the WHO guidelines.”
Mkhize said these guidelines would also apply to healthcare workers. They would, however, take a second test, whereas it has not been recommended that the public take a second test.
The minister also announced the introduction of a new digital system the Department of Health is currently using, called CovidConnect.
CovidConnect, which can be accessed through WhatsApp and SMS, will be able to give people their Covid-19 test results and vital information on the virus. It will also be used for tracking and tracing of contacts.
To access COVIDConnect, just add ‘0600123456’ to your phonebook and say ‘hello’ to us on WhatsApp. If you do not have a smartphone, just dial 134832# and follow the prompts.
To receive your results on WhatsApp, just add ‘LetsTalk’ to your phonebook on ‘0820468553’. Type in ‘Results’ on WhatsApp and follow the prompts.
“One of the critical aspects of combating Covid-19 is the ability to detect positive cases early, track and trace their contacts, and refer them for appropriate management, whether it is immediate testing, isolation or quarantine,” Mkhize said.
“This system enhances the physical effort of contact tracking and tracing, which is done by our community health workers and volunteers. It automates this traditional process and continuously engages with the affected user.”
Patients who test positive will be able to use the platform to give information on their contacts.
The system will then immediately dispatch alerts via SMS to those contacts without disclosing the index patient’s details, and prompts them on the next steps to take.
The non-disclosure of the patient’s name is to ensure their privacy is protected and also to make sure that, after a contact’s details are made available, that person’s privacy is also protected, Mkhize said.
“In addition, the system can geo-locate the nearest quarantine and isolation facility for the user, and the nearest healthcare facility for patients or their contacts, who are experiencing symptoms requiring medical attention.”