Your questions answered about coronavirus test and trace
PUBLISHED: 10:45 28 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:10 28 May 2020
A system to find people who have come into close contact with people with coronavirus has started in a bid to control the spread of the virus and help ease lockdown restrictions.
NHS Test and Trace has launched across England with the help of 25,000 contact tracers, while an accompanying app is still delayed by several weeks.
The aim of the scheme - which will run alongside calls to keep up social distancing and handwashing - is to cut off routes of transmission for coronavirus and prevent a second peak of infection.
Launching the scheme, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks.
“NHS Test and Trace will be vital to stopping the spread of the virus. It is how we will be able to protect our friends and family from infection, and protect our NHS.
“This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.”
MORE: Coronavirus test and trace rollout: How it will work in Norfolk
As part of NHS Test and Trace, testing facilities may be rapidly deployed to particular locations if there is an outbreak. Local authorities have also received £300 million to develop their own local outbreak control plans.
Those self-isolating will be eligible for statutory sick pay, while people who are self-employed will be able to access cash grants.
Prof John Newton, national coordinator of Test and Trace, said the new service - combined with social distancing and good hand hygiene, “will enable us to emerge more safely from lockdown”.
Prof Newton said the standard symptoms to report were fever, continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste, but said “we need to have a pretty low threshold for offering people tests”.
He admitted that launching a programme of this size meant “something will go wrong somewhere along the line”, but added “we will learn a lot as we go”.
It comes as a report, based on six volunteers tracking 58 people, found two-thirds of people did not fully cooperate.
Meanwhile a study from University College London found that contract tracing plus other measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene were not a “magic bullet” and could drive down the number of new infections by only 5-15pc.
What has changed?
Anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus - a persistent cough, fever or a sudden loss of taste or sense of smell - should continue to isolate for seven days and the rest of their household for 14 days.
However the difference from Thursday is that everyone with symptoms should immediately arrange a test online at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.
Where can I get a test?
Preferably this will be done at a testing centre. There now include drive-through regional testing sites, mobile testing units, hospital-based testing for NHS patients and staff and dedicated testing centres in other care settings, like care homes. However test kits can also be delivered to your home. When you order a test, you will get information on the options available.
How quick will the results be?
The aim is to provide results within 48 hours of taking a test, but some results may take longer. You will get your results by text, email or phone – and the message will advise you about what to do next.
What if the results are negative?
If the test comes back negative, everyone in your household can go back to normal. If you feel well and no longer have symptoms similar to coronavirus, you can stop self-isolating as can other members of your household.
What if the results are positive?
If you get a positive test result, this means that when you took the test, you had coronavirus. You – and other members of your household – must continue to self-isolate. NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will call, email or send a text asking you to share details of the people you have been in close contact with and places you have visited.
How do I give this information?
You will be sent a link to the NHS test and trace website and asked to create a confidential account where you can record details about your recent close contacts. If you do not complete the online process, contact tracers will phone you to gather this information.
Is it confidential?
The information you give will be handled in strict confidence and will only be kept and used in line with data protection laws. Under-18s will be phoned, and a parent or guardian will need to give permission for the call to continue. If NHS Test and Trace call by phone, the service will be using a single phone number: 0300 013 5000. Contact tracers will never ask you to dial a premium rate number, make any form of payment or purchase, or ask for any details about your bank account. So beware scams.
What’s a close contact?
A close contact is defined as anybody who has been in close contact with an infected person in the two days before symptoms appear and up to seven days afterwards. This includes people in the same household, those who have been within one metre, or who have been within two metres for 15 minutes or more.
What do they do with my close contacts information?
The NHS Test and Trace team emails or texts your close contacts. Any of those contacts deemed at risk of catching the virus will be instructed by the NHS to go into isolation for 14 days, whether they are sick or not. They will be tested only if they develop symptoms. The rest of their household does not have to isolate, unless someone becomes ill.
Should I tell people about my test?
If you develop symptoms, you may wish to alert the people with whom you have had close contact over the previous 48 hours. You should tell them that you might have coronavirus but are waiting for a test result.
Until the test result is known, those people will not need to self-isolate, but they should take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene, like washing their hands regularly. They should also watch out for their own symptoms.
What if a close contact falls ill?
They book themselves a test. If this is positive, they stay home for seven days or until their symptoms have passed, and their household stays home for 14 days. If it is negative, the contact must still complete their initial 14-day isolation period.
What about the contact tracing app I’ve heard about?
Eventually the government hopes a free NHS smartphone app will work in tandem with manual tracing. It was originally due to be rolled out nationwide in mid-May, but the government now says it will be ready ‘’in the coming weeks’’.
Everyone with a smartphone will be asked to download the app. If a user develops coronavirus symptoms, it is up to them to let the app inform the NHS. That may trigger an anonymous alert to other users with whom they recently had significant contact.
Is test and trace mandatory?
Not to begin with. For the time being, the new system will rely on the voluntary compliance of the public. Matt Hancock said they hoped the public’s ‘civic duty’ will see people follow test and trace instructions.
But ministers do have the legal power to enforce self-isolation requirements with fines, if it is deemed necessary at a later stage.
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