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Can you be forced to quarantine in a state facility?

There’s a difference between quarantine and isolation — but in both cases, you can’t refuse to comply with the regulations.

Resource details:

Publication title: Guidelines for quarantine and isolation in relation to COVID-19 exposure and infection 

Author(s): The department of health

Publication date: 5 May 2020. On 17 July these guidelines were updated.

What the guidelines are about:

These guidelines clarify the difference between isolation and quarantine. The document explains how such activities should be handled in homes and healthcare facilities. The report also provides a checklist that can be used to identify and set up facilities, as well as a list of the required equipment. In the updated guidelines, the required period for isolation was shortened to 10 days.

Key take-aways from the guidelines:

Quarantine vs. isolation

  • Quarantine is for people who are asymptomatic, but who may be infected with COVID-19. Quarantine keeps these people away from others so they do not unknowingly infect anyone. Because some quarantined people might be COVID-19 positive (or might become positive during the quarantine period), individuals in quarantine facilities must be kept under individual quarantine (self-quarantine) within the facility. While isolation serves the same purpose as quarantine, it is reserved for those who are already sick and/or have tested positive for COVID-19 infections, but do not require hospital admission for medical care.
  • Both isolation and quarantine work to prevent people from potentially and unknowingly infecting others with the new coronavirus.


  • People can either quarantine at home (self-quarantine) or at a facility (administered quarantine). 
  • Self-quarantine and self-isolation requirements are the same.
  • The period of quarantine/isolation is as follows:
    • Asymptomatic patients: 10 days from the time of a positive test 
    • Mild disease: 10 days from onset of symptoms  
    • Moderate or severe disease: 10 days following clinical stabilisation (when the person no longer requires oxygen) 
    • There is no need to test/retest at the end of the isolation period.
    • Editorial note: The period of quarantine/isolation that is reflected in the original guidelines is 14 days. This period was shortened to 10 days on 17 July. Read more about the reasons for the announcement here and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s speech here. You can find the World Health Organisation guidelines that South Africa has based its new quarantine/isolation guidelines on here.
  • People in self-quarantine/isolation should observe basic hygiene such as frequently washing their hands, using a cloth mask and avoiding touching their hands, eyes and mouth.
  • A person in self-quarantine/isolation should minimise close contact with other household members by avoiding face-to-face contact closer than 1 metre with them. The other household residents do not need to self-isolate provided these precautions are followed.
  • People in self-quarantine/isolation should take their meals to their rooms to eat, use cutlery that isn’t shared with the rest of the household, wash their dishes separately and dry them with a separate tea towel, and use their own toilet paper, hand towels and toothpaste.
  • A person in self-quarantine/isolation can wash their dirty laundry with the rest of the household if they do the washing themselves, but they should only fold and put away their own items. If such a person does not have access to a washing machine, they have to wait 72 hours after their 14-day isolation period has ended before taking their laundry to a laundrette. 

State-sponsored quarantine:

  • Each province provides both quarantine and isolation facilities for those unable to separate themselves at home.
  • People are provided with transport to these facilities, if required.
  • These facilities can be based at hotels, resorts, university or college buildings, etc.
  • The facilities should have proper ventilation and allow for single occupancy rooms. Where possible, en suite bathrooms should also be included.
  • The facilities should have 24-hour security present and should provide free food, laundry services and internet access to occupants.
  • A nurse has to be present at the facility for at least eight hours a day to administer daily temperature checks and assist with any other healthcare needs that may arise.

How many state quarantine facilities are there?

  • A total of 521 quarantine facilities had been assessed by the national health department, as of 8 July
  • Of these, almost nine out of 10 were found to be compliant with health department standards
  • The majority — almost a third — of the assessed facilities were in the Eastern Cape.
  • View the full list showing where these facilities are here.

Enforcement for self-quarantine/isolation: 

  • If a person refuses to self-quarantine or self-isolate themselves according to the guidelines, an enforcement officer, which can be a member of the South African Police Service, the South African National Defence Force or Metro Traffic Police, can legally enforce the person to a mandatory isolation or quarantine facility. If the person does not comply with the instruction of the enforcement officer, they will be placed in quarantine for a period not exceeding 48 hours, pending a warrant being issued by a court. 

You can download the original guidelines published on 5 May. The updated guidelines, published on 17 July, can be downloaded here.

[Please note: Information on the new coronavirus is rapidly changing. Please refer to the department of health website for the latest information. Visit for updates on South Africa’s coronavirus response.]

[18 July 1:10pm This story was updated to reflect the shortened quarantine/isolation period (shortened from 14 to 10 days) announced by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on 17 July. Read more about the reasons for the announcement here. Find the updated directions here.]

Aisha Abdool Karim was a senior health reporter at Bhekisisa from 2020 to 2022.

Gopolang Makou was the impact and engagement officer at Bhekisisa.