By Gemma Handy
Health officials will not be reducing the current 14-day coronavirus quarantine period in Antigua and Barbuda, despite new guidelines now in place in a number of other countries.
The US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week reduced the recommended time a person must quarantine after Covid-19 exposure from 14 days to seven or 10 days.
But there are no plans to follow suit locally, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst told Observer.
“There has been discussion about reducing the period, but only after the vaccine has been in use,” he said. “No significant event would justify the change at this time,” Hurst added.
The twin island nation remains on track to receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines early next year. Precisely which one it will be has still not been confirmed, Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas said.
CDC’s new guidelines announced last Wednesday say people who have close contact with an infected person can end their quarantine after seven days if they receive a negative test, or after 10 days without a test.
The authority defines close contact as 15 minutes in total spent within six feet of an infected person. CDC says, however, people should still monitor for symptoms 14 days after exposure.
Official advice from international health bodies on how best to curtail the virus’ spread has wavered since the onset of the pandemic due to it being a new illness.
And there are still “no simple answers with anything Covid-related,” almost a year after a novel coronavirus was identified, one local medic told Observer.
“At the beginning and until recently, it was believed that there could be a full 14 days after being exposed that you could come down with the illness. So that’s the rationale behind isolating for 14 days.
“It was thought that if you don’t have it by then, you won’t get it,” the doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
“However, it now appears that the vast majority of people become infected within 10 days of exposure. Very few will get it after 14 days,” he explained.
“So people who follow the latest data – and believe it, because obviously it changes – want to follow the 10-day period and get the economy going again.”
Indeed, CDC’s Covid incident manager Dr Henry Walke said trimming quarantine would reduce “economic hardship” for people unable to work as a result.
“We believe that if we can reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall,” Walke said.
Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, recently said that if a person doesn’t develop the virus within 10 days after exposure, they’re increasingly unlikely to develop it at all.
“The science has evolved to the point where we’re comfortable with the 10-day quarantine period,” he said. “It’s a good move. … It’ll likely make it much easier for people to comply with.”
CDC has warned that reducing the quarantine period comes with a “residual risk”; the person leaving early could transmit to someone else at between one to 12 percent, the body says.
For the seven-day quarantine with a negative test, the residual risk of onward transmission is said to be five to 10 per cent.
And while there have been concerns that maintaining the 14-day quarantine timeframe in Antigua and Barbuda is excessively onerous, the local doctor believes it’s the safest measure for the time being.
“To contain the spread, we should stick to 14 days. It makes sense in a place like here where we really would not be able to deal with a serious fallout from Covid to err on the side of caution.
“With a vaccine around the corner, I don’t see a problem in continuing the 14-day period,” he added.
The US follows some European countries that have shortened the recommended quarantine time.
In September, France reduced self-isolation from 14 days to seven days. And last month Germany also slashed the self-quarantine period for travellers arriving into the country from high-risk areas to 10 days.