26. November 2020

 – Policy Brief

Considerations regarding the duration of quarantine for people with possible exposure to SARS-CoV-2 infection

Download Policy Brief PDF

Executive summary

A quarantine period of 10 days is currently required in Switzerland for two situations: contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases and travellers returning from high-risk areas. This policy brief assumes that quarantine is in place for these two situations and addresses questions about the duration of quarantine and not about quarantine as a preventive strategy.

Given that the number of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland has been increasing, the priority for SARS-CoV-2 control strategy is to stabilise or reduce case numbers using the full range of public health and individual level prevention measures.

Reducing the duration of quarantine should only be considered if accompanied by measures that compensate for the expected increase in transmission. A nationally coordinated approach is required.

Studies should be commissioned by the cantons or the confederation to assess the effects of the duration of quarantine on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in Switzerland, including in the setting of the current test-trace-isolate-quarantine strategy, and for imported COVID-19.

Contacts of confirmed cases and returning travellers differ in the probability of having been exposed and infected and on the information available about the likely window of exposure.

In the absence of empirical data about the effectiveness of different durations of quarantine, we use mathematical modelling to explore the fraction of onward transmission that can be prevented by different quarantine strategies.

For contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases,

  • A test-and-release strategy can reduce the period of quarantine but the earlier in the quarantine period that the test is done, the lower the fraction of onward transmission that can be prevented.
  • We provide estimates of the fraction of transmission prevented for different scenarios.If test-negative individuals strengthen their adherence to preventive measures after leaving quarantine, there is a modest gain in the fraction of transmission prevented for tests done early.

For returning travellers from countries with higher incidence of SARS-CoV-2 than Switzerland,

  • Data from Geneva suggest that about 1 in 200 returning travellers is diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection during quarantine, substantially higher than the incidence of diagnosed infection in the general population.
  • The effect of quarantine duration differs according to the duration of travel.
  • A single test done on arrival in Switzerland can only prevent a small fraction of the transmission, even for longer trips, because of the false-negative rate of RT-PCR early in infection.
  • A test-and-release strategy can reduce the duration of quarantine. We provide estimates of the fraction of transmission prevented for different scenarios.

Date of request:
Date of response: 30/9/2020

Experts involved: Sebastian Bonhoeffer, Nicola Low, expert group Data and Modelling and other expert groups

Contact persons: Sebastian Bonhoeffer

As the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force has been disbanded as of 31 March 2022, no further epidemiological assessments, scientific updates or policy briefs will be published in the future. All previous publications, pages and information of the Science Task Force remain available on this website.