National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC), on Saturday, announced that travelers left stranded in Male’ City due to the lockdown in the capital who opt for the atoll quarantine option to return to their home islands will undergo antibody tests following their quarantine period.
Prior to the introduction of the atoll quarantine option, people stranded in Male’ City due to the lockdown in the capital – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Maldives – were required to undergo 14 days of quarantine in transit quarantine facilities built in resorts. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) introduced a second option for such stranded travelers on Saturday, which will allow them to travel back to their home island at state expense, where they will be required to complete 24 days of home quarantine.
In response to a question at the NEOC press briefing on Saturday night, Dr. Nazla Mustafa, a member of NEOC’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG), said that both travellers from overseas and the capital will hereafter undergo antibody tests in order to ensure they are free of the new coronavirus.
“All travel related people, whether it’s a person who travels from another island or a person who travels to Maldives from overseas, will hereafter need to undergo 24 days of quarantine after which they will take antibody tests,” said Dr. Nazla.
While PCR tests help identify people who have the virus in their system, antibody tests help identify people who have contracted the virus in the recent past and have developed antibodies for it. Those who have antibodies cannot transmit the virus to others, and are potentially protected from reinfection.
Dr. Nazla said that health authorities will hereafter use PCR tests on direct contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases.
“A person will begin testing positive for antibodies after approximately nine to eleven days. Therefore, the 24 days [of quarantine] are because antibody tests will be done after such travel related quarantine,” she said.
Speaking at Saturday’s press conference, HPA epidemiologist Dr. Ibrahim Afzal said the decision to offer the option of atoll quarantine was made to allow a more convenient and speedier option for stranded travelers under the decision to relax the lockdown measures in the capital.
It was also made in light of the increase in awareness among the people regarding the new coronavirus, he said.
Stranded travelers who wish to opt for atoll quarantine need to meet specific requirements set by HPA. Those who fail to meet the requirements will need to undergo quarantine in transit facilities.
Some 3,000 stranded travelers have been moved to transit quarantine facilities, some of whom have returned to their home islands following quarantine and tests clearing them of infection.
Maldives identified its first coronavirus case on March 7, and declared a state of public health emergency over the pandemic four days later on March 11.
While coronavirus cases had initially been restricted to resorts and safaris, and later quarantine facilities holding inbound travelers, Male’ City identified its first coronavirus case on April 15, prompting a city-wide lockdown and a nationwide ban on nonessential travel.
The populous Male’ City has since become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, contributing to over 90 percent of the total cases.
Maldives has confirmed 1,901 coronavirus cases, 763 of whom have since recovered. Eight have died from complications.