Isolation vs returning to work – the guidelines South African workers should know

It is important to note that there is a difference between being fully recovered and being ready to come out of isolation.

The following criteria are specified for de-isolation of a person who tests positive for Covid-19:

  • Symptomatic patients with mild disease (not requiring hospitalisation for Covid-19) can be de-isolated 10 days after the onset of their symptoms, provided their fever has resolved and their other symptoms are improving.
  • Hospitalised patients with moderate-severe disease (who require hospitalisation due to Covid-19) can be de-isolated 10 days after achievement of clinical stability (i.e. from when they are not requiring supplemental oxygen and are otherwise clinically stable).
  • Asymptomatic patients can be de-isolated 10 days after their test.
  • Repeat PCR testing is NOT required in order to de-isolate a patient and is not recommended.

It is common for patients to continue to have symptoms for longer than the 10 days

Full recovery may take several weeks for some patients, especially for symptoms such as fatigue, cough and anosmia (loss of sense of smell).

Patients who are still symptomatic at the end of their isolation period can be de-isolated provided that their fever has resolved and their other symptoms have shown improvement. Patients admitted to hospital can continue their isolation period at home or at an isolation facility once clinical stability has been achieved.

Employees can return to work:

  • 10 days after symptom onset for cases of mild disease;
  • 10 days after clinical stability (e.g. after oxygen stopped) for cases of severe disease.

Note: PCR testing is not required for return to work. The exception is if a person remains asymptomatic in quarantine after a high-risk exposure to a confirmed Covid-19 case, a PCR test should be done when assessing the employee for early return to work on day eight post-exposure.

The distinction between the isolation period and returning to work

The recommended isolation time is the period during which a patient is still considered infectious. This should be distinguished from the point at which a patient is medically well enough to return to work.

Some patients, especially those who have had severe disease, may require to be booked off sick for longer than the above isolation periods.


Read: South Africa is getting a Covid-19 vaccine ‘ID system’ – how it will work

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Isolation vs returning to work – the guidelines South African workers should know