blurred people in a modern hall

Travelers have been looking for that silver bullet to put covid-19 behind us, and while it’s not quite here yet, some amazing news has emerged. A promising study from Korean Centers For Disease Control And Prevention shows that once you’ve had and recovered from Coronavirus you’re no longer contagious, even on the off chance you test positive again.

In other words, a traveler who had the virus and recovered in quarantine, but tests positive again at a later date is of no concern to others, and also means fewer people will  be capable of spreading covid-19 in the future. Why and how could someone test positive again? Because tests can’t tell between dead virus particles being shed by the body, and live ones, which creates so called “false positives”, says the study.

These false positives were an area of grave concern for scientists fearing the virus could come back, but these results conclude it cannot. The move is already changing how countries look to reopen, and could be the catalyst needed to unlock borders and safe travels along with them, sooner than later. Even then, no one is saying you have to go…

Seou, South Korea city skyline at twilight.South Korean and Japanese researchers have put particular focus on what happens after someone is infected, and experts from both countries have also looked back to SARS, the last acute respiratory illness to see if there’s any wisdom hidden away. In South Korea, it appears some has been found, according to Bloomberg.

Studies show that once recovered from covid-19, even those who test positive again at a later date cannot transmit the disease. Any positive results after recovery could simply be the shedding of dead virus cells, and don’t actually mean you are contagious or suffering.

A key barrier for reopening society has been centered around the question of whether people could become reinfected, and if so, if they would then be equally likely to transmit the virus to others. The answer to the second, crucial part of the question is no, according to studies conducted by the Korean Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

If you had coronavirus and recovered in quarantine, you’d be unable to transmit it to others and cause harm once recovered. It’s important to define “recovered’ since days must pass after what you believe to be fully recovered. Even once recovered, social distancing and hygiene measures are vital for all.

Even if you tested positive again weeks later, you’d be of no risk to others, according to the study. It’s not the news of vaccine many hope for, but it’s an extremely positive sign that the virus may eventually run out of victims, or those easily capable of spread, as social distancing continues. We can only hope.

Initiatives to slow the spread must remain in place, and those most at risk are no better off in the interim, but as populations lower the “R” and a great percentage of people recover, risks are dropping daily with each survivor, as they turn into someone incapable of spread.

To put it bluntly, Bloomberg states “South Korea will no longer consider people infectious after recovering from the illness”. Quelling any doubts of a hopeful future, three more laboratories around the world, including Stanford and USAMRIID, of the US Department of Defense believe they’re closer to a vaccine than ever before.

Results are likely to change how countries view results from those showing antibodies for covid-19, after a bout with the virus. The Bloomberg report also notes that researchers in Singapore, as part of the Duke-NUS Medical School, have noted that if coronavirus is anything like SARS, it’s possible for people to hold onto those antibodies, which fight off the virus, up to 17 years later.

What Will It All Mean For Travel

Swab tests before or after a flight will now be viewed differently, with particular focus on those shown to have already had the coronavirus. If you’ve had it, you no longer pose any risk, according to the study. The same logic would apply to workplaces, schools and other areas where officials are keen to see negative tests before entry. Now, a positive test for a past case will do just fine.

By no means does this suggest going out and getting covid-19 is a wise idea. It couldn’t be further from the truth. What it means is that if you’ve been unfortunate to suffer from it, or lucky enough to avoid it, people who can get you sick are lowering in number by the day, by the fact that once recovered, they’re no longer an issue. Let’s just hope it holds true…

With thanks to our friend Jason Kane.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation

12 Comments

  1. I think you have wildly misinterpreted the study.

    The study provides evidence that the current test will return positive even without an active infection. Not that once you have had it, you can’t pass it on again.

    They believe the sample group were not re-infected but rather they they were shedding dead virus particles that triggered the positive test result, having recovered from the disease and testing negative.

    1. If I have, then so to have The WSJ, Bloomberg, Straits Times, The Telegraph and quite a few others…

      The Bloomberg headline, in case you TL:DR…”Covid Patients Testing Positive After Recovery Aren’t Infectious, Study Shows”…

      First line of the Telegraph article… “Patients who tested positive for Covid-19 after recovering from it could not then transmit coronavirus, according to a study by South Korea’s disease control centre”…

      I believe the distinction about shedding dead particles as you say is about “false” positive results, where someone isn’t actually positive again, which was the only major concern. Recovered people who tested negative were not believed to spread anyway. The caveat is that it can take months for extreme cases to “recover”, so people need to be mindful of when they have actually recovered.

      The specific Bloomberg text, which I believe solidifies the point that it means recovered patients in general aren’t a threat is the line “The results mean health authorities in South Korea will no longer consider people infectious after recovering from the illness”. I’m basing this, as noted in the article on that basis. If their interpretation and therefore mine, is wrong. I’ll gladly amend.

      1. That’s all fine – and the study supports that.

        It’s the “If you’ve had it, you no longer pose any risk,” – this isn’t true, until it’s proven that you can’t catch it twice.
        If you can catch it more than once, you would then have an active infection and would be contagious.

        And “A key barrier for reopening society has been centered around the question of whether people could become reinfected, and if so, if they would then be equally likely to transmit the virus to others. The answer to the second, crucial part of the question is no,” – no, the patients weren’t reinfected so no answer there.

  2. Cautious optimism is warranted, I think, with emphasis on both words in that phrase. Measured patience, as well. It’s going to be a _long_ year but Summer 2021 will be here before we know it. Stay as healthy as you can, Gilbert!

  3. Some good news as Gilbert stated, but Paul is absolutely right. While scientists hope that immunity happens, there is no concrete evidence and hence the second part of the question is currently unanswerable.

    And I think relevant questions are 1) When do infected stop being contagious (the research Gilbert mentioned answers that)? 2) Is there immunity and for how long (nobody knows)?

  4. Very good news indeed, but there are a few important errors in this piece. The data below comes from the study itself:
    -“Studies conclusively show …” This was not a conclusive study. It lacks both the sample size (only 285 were studied) and a controlled environment. The study itself has also not yet actually concluded – so far investigation of only 64% of re-positive cases has been concluded, with the rest pending. It is more accurate to call this an “exploratory” study than a “conclusive” study if you want to use the term “study”. The KCDC calls it “investigation and analysis”.
    -“If you had coronavirus and recovered in quarantine, you’d be unable to transmit it to others and cause harm once recovered. ” The KCDC uses language that is less absolute: “no evidence was found that indicated infectivity of re-positive cases”. Again, it does not conclude that re-positive cases are unable to transmit to others.
    -“Swab tests before or after a flight will now be viewed differently, with particular focus on those shown to have already had the coronavirus.” Swab tests tell if you have the virus at the moment (with varying degrees of accuracy). Blood tests show if you’ve been infected before. Also, a blood test will be positive if it is your first case and you are still contagious, so if the findings so far turn out to be accurate, you’ll need to take both tests it seems.
    Again, all of this data coming from the KCDC is VERY positive and encouraging. But I’d recommend using more precise language in this article just in case someone who’s already recovered from COVID reads it and then decides to kiss a bunch of old people, and the results turn out to be less than 100% accurate.

  5. I would urge CAUTIOUS optimism.
    One study (ongoing and currently incomplete) of less than 300 cases in the context of a global pandemic is not conclusive for all.
    I have every sympathy for the desire for this to be true and an absolute positive, sadly as with all scientific studies, it is only with; completion, peer review and reliable 3rd party repetition that this will become accepted scientific fact with all of the positive implications it has for travel.

    Still great words but I fear you’re impatient for a conclusion not yet reached (in common with many professional journalists)

  6. I agree with the others who have stated that your article portrays this as far more conclusive than it really is. And your headline is just plain irresponsible.

    We heard on Monday that there was a vaccine that was looking promising; that got semi-retracted a day later. There has been, and will be, a lot of that. That’s why multiple studies are done on any topic before any sorts of conclusions should be reached.

    I do hope you’re right, but what if you’re wrong? How many people will rely on your article and get sick or die as a result?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.