Test and Trace programme rolled out
The Government announced the start of the new NHS Test and Trace programme yesterday. It comes as Ministers ramp up their coronavirus tracking efforts in the community and in advance of the phased reopening of businesses and workplaces. As part of the system, anyone with coronavirus symptoms will undergo testing and have their recent contacts traced. Those they have been in close contact with a virus-positive individual will be notified by phone-call to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they are not experiencing symptoms. If they begin to have symptoms, they can book at test on the NHS website or call 119.
People who experience symptoms and later test positive for the virus will be obliged to stay home for 14 days along with their family members. NHS Test and Trace employees will either call, text or email to ask for details of their recent interactions such as exposure to others within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes. For a contact to be alerted, the close interaction must have taken place two days before the test result and up to seven days after symptoms appeared. If a test comes back negative, everyone in the household may go back to normal.
Through the Test and Trace approach, 5-15% of infections could be prevented, although the system depends on people abiding by isolation guidance and providing full information to tracking staff. It is hoped the programme will help to identify cases of the virus, reduce its spread and ultimately save lives. Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally”. A total of 25,000 dedicated contact tracing staff have been recruited to carry out the programme. At present, this will mean a capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 people per day. This may be expanded dependent on future needs.
Testing has also been expanded to all people aged under 5 years old who are experiencing a continuous cough, a high temperature or a change in their sense of smell or taste. 50 drive-through sites are in operation, more than 100 mobile testing units and 3 'mega laboratories' as part of the wider diagnostic facilities expansion led by the Government. This will underpin the NHS Test and Trace Programme. Additionally, £300 million has been allocated to fund local authorities to develop local outbreak control plans, alongside public health officials from PHE. Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Harding said the service has been launched “at incredible speed and scale”. A team of 40,000 workers, employed both directly and through trusted partners, “are working hard to deliver both testing and contact racing at scale”, she said.