Spanish Health Ministry finalizing agreement with regions to reduce coronavirus quarantine from 14 to 10 days

Minister Salvador Illa says there is a “broad consensus” for the measure with regional governments, and Catalan authorities have already announced they will implement the change from next week

A man in the Vallecas neighborhood of Madrid on Saturday.
A man in the Vallecas neighborhood of Madrid on Saturday.Manu Fernandez (AP)
Jessica Mouzo

The Spanish Health Ministry is finalizing a deal with regional governments to reduce quarantine times from 14 days to 10 for close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19.

Health Minister Salvador Illa on Tuesday confirmed that central and regional authorities are discussing the measure and said that “there is a broad consensus, though not a unanimous agreement.” The proposal could be adopted sometime on Tuesday, the minister added.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Catalan government announced a reduced quarantine period for close contacts beginning next week.

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa.Andrea Comas

According to the Health Ministry’s existing protocol, a person who tests positive for Covid-19 may reduce his or her isolation period to 10 days if more than 72 hours have elapsed without any fever or symptoms. Meanwhile, close contacts must quarantine for 14 days, although a shorter period is also contemplated if a PCR test is done on the 10th day and it comes back negative.

Under the new plan, close contacts of a positive case would be able to end their quarantine period after 10 days without the need for a PCR test.

The scientific community came up with the 14-day isolation period at the beginning of the pandemic because that is the maximum incubation period for the coronavirus. But new evidence has emerged in recent months suggesting that after the 10th day, the chances of contagion are substantially reduced.

To this must be added the social and economic difficulties of quarantining contacts, all of which has led government officials to consider shorter periods that would be easier to comply with. On September 7, the head of Spain’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simón, explained that Spain was considering the option of reducing quarantine times to 10 days.

Catalonia, an early adopter

Catalonia has already taken the first step and announced 10-day quarantines starting next week. “If we can ensure that quarantines become more compact and better, they will be increasingly observed,” said Josep Maria Argimon, the Catalan secretary for public health, in recent statements.

On Tuesday, Argimon insisted that it is important to isolate properly in order to keep the pandemic in check. “Isolation and quarantine need to be improved,” he said. “We have repeatedly told the Spanish government that a person who needs to care for children forced to stay home should receive some kind of aid in order to properly observe the isolation period.”

Spain is not the first country to consider reducing quarantine times to make them easier to observe. A couple of weeks ago, France announced it would halve quarantine periods from 14 to seven days for people with symptoms of Covid-19, those whose PCR tests come back negative, and those in close contact with positive cases.

A committee of experts advising the French government said that in some parts of the country the quarantines were being unevenly observed, and that available scientific evidence shows that the likelihood of contagion beyond the eighth day is very low. The Netherlands have also reduced quarantine times to 10 days.

English version by Susana Urra.

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