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

The shortened period is in line with guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation based on global studies which have recently been conducted.

In a press briefing on Friday evening, Mkhize said most COVID-19 patients are no longer infectious after a certain amount of time.

“The isolation period for patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection is being reduced from 14 days to 10 days. This recommendation is based on the evidence that most patients with mild COVID-19 infections continue to share the virus from their upper airways for approximately seven to twelve days,” he said.

“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 eight to nine days after the onset of symptoms.”

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

“The duration of infectiousness of patients with severe disease that requires admission due to clinical instability is less well-established. In general, patients with severe disease may continue to share the virus at higher levels for longer periods than patients with mild diseases. To provide a buffer, 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,” Mkhize said.

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

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.”

Mkhize said the decision was made based on guidelines published by the World Health Organisation.

“These guidelines have been provided by the World Health Organisation. The Ministerial Advisory Committee has also submitted an advisory in this regard. Their advisory, after they did a lot of analysis, 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 – on the recommendation of the National Health Council – resolved to adopt the WHO guidelines,” he said.