THE UK’s coronavirus contact tracing scheme was rolled across England on May 28.
It is hoped that it will help Britain safely relax lockdown measures and avoid a second wave of coronavirus, the Government has confirmed.
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It means those who come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 will be contacted and told to self-isolate.
Experts say it could slash spread by up to 15 per cent – but officials will have to warn those at risk within three days for it to make a significant impact.
So, here’s what you need to know…
What is the NHS Test and Trace Service?
The NHS Test and Trace Service is the Government’s new contact tracing system.
It was launched across England on Thursday, May 28, with a team of 25,000 contact tracers.
Working with Public Health England, they will have the capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 people who test positive every day.
Officials say that the system will help them to identify, contain and control coronavirus by reducing its spread and ultimately save lives.
How does it work?
The new system will involve using much more widespread testing than has previously been available.
Now anyone who has coronavirus symptoms will be offered a test.
If the result is positive, an NHS contact tracer will get in touch to find out about their recent interactions.
This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within two metres for more than 15 minutes.
These people will then be notified – either by text, call or email – that they have been in contact with a positive case and should self isolate for 14 days.
What should I do if I think I have Covid-19?
The new system works in two parts – the first is for someone who tests positive for Covid-19 and the second is for their contacts.
Anyone with a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a change in their sense of smell or taste, should:
As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate for at least seven days.
Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.
2. Get tested
Order a coronavirus test immediately so you can confirm whether or not you’ve been infected.
A test can be ordered online directly from the Coronavirus page of the NHS website.
For those that don’t have internet access, a new number has been set up – call 119 if you need a test.
If your test is positive you must complete the remainder of your seven-day self-isolation.
Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.
If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to isolate and you can get on with your everyday lives.
4. Share contacts
If you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS Test and Trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you within 24 hours.
They will provide instructions on how to share details of people you have been in close, recent contact with and places you have visited.
It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that appropriate advice can be given to those who need it.
You will be asked to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by an NHS contact tracer.
How will I know if I’ve been in contact with a positive case?
In most cases, people will likely know if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
However the new system formally notifies you with instructions on what you need to do if you have come into contact with an infected person.
You will be alerted by the NHS Test and Trace service if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
The alert will come either by text or email and you’ll need to log on to the NHS Test and Trace website, which is the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you need to do.
Under 18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue.
You will be asked to begin self-isolation for up to 14 days, depending on when you last came into contact with the person who has tested positive.
It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell because it can take up to 14 days for the symptoms to develop.
This will be crucial to avoid you unknowingly spreading the virus to others.
Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and washing your hands.
3. Test – if needed
If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household should self-isolate at home.
You should also book a coronavirus test from the NHS website or call 119 if you have no internet access.
If your test is positive you must continue to stay at home for seven days.
But if you test negative, you must still complete your 14 day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet.
Can I get a test if I have no symptoms?
No, the only people who will need to be tested at the moment are those with symptoms.
If you are informed that you have been in contact with someone and you don’t have symptoms, you will need to self-isolate for the full 14 days.
Should you develop symptoms in that time, that’s when you need to apply for a test.
Professor John Newton, National Coordinator of Test and Trace, said: “If you are a contact and you don’t have symptoms there’s very little value, so you have to do your 14-day isolation.
“You will not be released because you may still be incubating the virus.
“We would like to get the timing from symptom to the result to within 48 hours, which gives a day or so to identify the contacts and ask them to self-isolate.”
Where can I get tested?
If you have coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate and order a coronavirus test immediately.
This can be done on the NHS website or by calling 119, for those without internet access.
It’s thought that to get rapid results, people will be directed to their nearest drive-in testing facility, rather than being sent a home kit.
Prof Newton told reporters at a briefing today: “The drive-in centres, we’re now getting 84 per cent of those back within 24 hours.
“The tests at home – there is an inevitable delay in getting the test out to people.
“We are thinking the Test and Trace programme will be supported by methods to get people to the testing site if possible.
“The NHS provides a rapid turn around for their testing programme but home testing is probably going to be the one that would be the most difficult, so we’re not relying on it for this purpose.”
Testing has been ramped up in recent weeks with 50 drive-through sites, more than 100 mobile testing units and three mega laboratories.
Ministers say they will soon have the capacity to carry out 200,000 tests a day.
What support is there if I have to self-isolate?
People who are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service are given clear information explaining what they must do and how they can access local support if needed.
Guidance is also available online at the Government’s website.
The Department for Work and Pensions has also announced that those having to self-isolate will be eligible for statutory sick pay if they are unable to work from home.
This applies across the four nations of the UK.
When will the app be available?
The new NHS Test and Trace service is the first phase in the Government’s contact tracing efforts.
Work is continuing on the NHS Covid-19 app after it was rolled out in early May on the Isle of Wight.
The Department of Health says there has been a positive reception to the test and trace system on the island with over 52,000 downloads in the first week.
But it’s not quite ready to roll it out to the rest of the country just yet, so the new system is being prioritised first.
Officials say the NHSX app, which will form the next part of the Test and Trace service, is due to be launched in the coming weeks – once contact tracing is up and running.
It’s hoped that once it is in place it will significantly extend the speed and reach of contact tracing.
The app should help identify those who you may not know, such as someone sitting next to you on public transport.
The app will also give powerful insights into the spread of the virus and how to contain it.
Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, said: “The app is under development – it’s being tested on the Isle of Wight and will launch soon.
“I see the app as the cherry on the cake, not the cake itself.
“The key is all of us in society playing our part and isolating when we’re told to.
“We are launching the testing scheme first and what the app will do is speed up and accelerate the process for those of us that are using it.”
How secure is contact tracing?
Some people have raised concerns over the security of sharing personal information.
But the Government has insisted that the contact tracing service is secure.
Contact tracers have undergone strict training and will only have access to the data from the case they are dealing with, the experts behind the scheme say.
All data will be held centrally by Public Health England, not on the tracers own computers, and there will be various security measures in place.
Prof Newton said: “It’s a confidential service but it’s also a clinical service.
“It’s normal practice in other cases, such as tuberculosis – it’s tried and tested and that’s explained to people.
“There’s a strong legal basis for us using data, we don’t require consent or ask for it but we do follow full GDPR and explain how we will use the data.
“It’s all focused on the interest, not just of the people involved, but the public. It’s to keep the public safe from coronavirus.
“We need people to understand that we are only using the data we need to benefit everybody.”
What if I don’t want to share my contact’s data?
For those who are concerned about security, then they may refuse to share their contact’s data with authorities.
At the moment, it is a voluntary service intended to help quickly control and contain localised outbreaks of the virus.
The experts admit they are aware that not everyone will comply, but they remain hopeful that people will see it as a way out of lockdown.
Baroness Harding said: “I have faith in the British public.
“Everyone does want to get out of national lockdown and they will see this as the way to play their part.
“We’ll be trading national lockdown for individual isolation if we have the symptoms or if we’re in close contact with someone who’s tested positive.
“Instead of 60 million being in lockdown, much smaller groups will be told to stay at home.
“Everything I’ve seen of the British public so far has shown the vast majority of people have complied with the guidance, so we would expect them to comply with this.
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“We need to make it easy for them to report their symptoms and not scary for those who they have been close to.
“We need to support those who are self-isolating rather than looking for ways to blame people.”
She added: “It’s worth noting that the Secretary of State does have the powers to mandate this if needed.”