During the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, many countries require travellers to undergo a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) before travelling across borders. However, in persons having recovered from COVID-19, RT-PCR positivity can persist for an extended period.
We describe three cases who sought fit-to-fly certificates in Thailand during the period free of local transmission but were tested positive for RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2. All had returned from a country with an active outbreak of COVID-19. Their clinical courses are described; positive nasopharyngeal swab samples were processed for viral isolation and whole-genome sequencing (WGS); and serology as well as neutralizing antibody were assessed. The contact tracing was carried out for determining evidence of indigenous transmission among close contacts of those three cases.
All three cases were completely asymptomatic. Chest computerized tomography was not compatible with COVID-19 pneumonia; cell cultures failed to rescue replication-competent virus; WGS revealed fragmented viral genetic material from nasopharyngeal swab samples; and serological tests demonstrated stable levels of antibodies, together with the presence of neutralizing antibody, suggesting past infection with negligible transmission risk. Contact tracing identified no transmission in high-risk close contact individuals.
RT-PCR positivity for SARS-CoV-2 might detect fragmented viral genome. Issuance of a travel certificate in these circumstances is problematic. Serology tests can help to define past infection. A practical acceptable set of guidelines for issuance of a COVID-19 safety travel certification is a necessity.

Copyright © 2022. Published by Elsevier Ltd.