/ 21 December 2021

Advisors suggest end to quarantine of asymptomatic Covid-19 contacts

Drive In Testing As South Africa Breaches 20,000 Daily Covid 19 Cases
A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) collects a nasal swab sample at a walk-in and drive-thru coronavirus testing facility in Pretoria. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A recommendation by the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on Covid-19 for the health minister to discontinue quarantine of high risk contacts and contact tracing measures meant to contain the spread of the virus, is one of a number of advisories that the health department is yet to decide on.

Although the department says it is currently unable to comment on the matter, its spokesperson Foster Mohale told the Mail & Guardian that the leaked document was one of a number of recommendations to be discussed by the national coronavirus command council.

According to the MAC, the 14-day quarantine period for “high-risk contacts” of Covid-19 patients, which was later reduced to 10 days, is not an effective measure for containing the spread of the virus. This is because only a very small proportion of contacts are being identified from a small proportion of Covid-19 cases.

It says the definition of “high-risk contacts” is also based on an outdated understanding of the transmission of Covid-19, which focuses on droplet spread. It ignores aerosol spread, which can occur over distances greater than one to 1.5 metres.

The committee says quarantining is also not feasible in many social settings and  increases the burden on the economy, where institutions have to work with reduced staff components. Prolonged quarantining has also led to loss of income, employment and schooling.

If approved, vaccinated and unvaccinated contacts will no longer be required to quarantine and no testing will be required, irrespective of the level of exposure, unless the contacts become symptomatic.