Coronavirus: How does Covid-19 test-and-trace work?

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People who have had close contact with someone found to have Covid-19 are being traced and asked to self-isolate for a fortnight.

In England, the emphasis is on local public health teams contacting those who may be infected, although a second attempt at a tracing app is currently being piloted.

But what happens if a neighbour or someone who went to the same pub or restaurant as you tests positive?

What happens if I develop symptoms?

If you develop

coronavirus symptoms and test positive, you’ll be contacted by text, email or phone and asked to log on to the NHS Test and Trace website.

There you must give personal information, including:

  • name, date of birth and postcode
  • who you live with
  • places you visited recently
  • names and contact details of people you have recently been in close contact with
  • people you’ve spent 15 minutes or more with at a distance of less than 2m (6ft)
  • sexual partners, household members or people you have had face-to-face conversations with at a distance of less than 1m

Contact must have taken place within a nine-day period, starting 48 hours before symptoms appeared.

No-one contacted will be told your identity.

How do the tracers get in touch with people?

The national tracing system has been criticised for not tapping into regional knowledge to reach people, as local lockdowns become increasingly important.

Contact tracers are now being redeployed to work alongside local public health teams.

If you can’t be reached through calls and texts, tracers may knock on your door. If you live in an area experiencing a coronavirus outbreak, they may also visit you to inform you of local testing facilities.

If you are approached because one of your contacts has tested positive, you must stay at home for 14 days from your last point of contact with them.

You must self-isolate, even if you don’t have symptoms, to prevent the virus spreading.

Others in your household won’t have to self-isolate unless they also develop symptoms, but must take extra care around you regarding social distancing and handwashing.

Must I provide contact details if eating out?

Organisations such as pubs and restaurants must collect and keep customer details for 21 days.

Giving personal information is voluntary and it is not the venue’s responsibility to ensure it’s correct.

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An NHS Test and Trace call does not always mean a pub or restaurant must close. It depends on the circumstances and when the infected person visited.

How is the tracing scheme going?

The prime minister claimed the UK’s test and trace system would be “world-beating.” But it has encountered several problems since its launch in May.

Of the people referred to the contact tracing system between 13-19 August, 72.6% were reached and asked for a list of their contacts, down from 79% the week before.

While the public health teams dealing with local outbreaks have consistently reached more than 90% of these contacts, the national call centre’s success rate peaked at just over 70% in July.

The scheme needs to reach a much higher proportion of the population than this in order to prevent a second wave when schools reopen, leading scientists have suggested.
Sage, which advises the government, has said that at least 80% of contacts would need to isolate for it to be effective.
The scheme has faced other criticisms too. A mobile tracing app was supposed to be a key component of the UK’s test and trace system. It was abandoned in mid-June, but residents in the Isle of Wight, the London Borough of Newham and NHS volunteer responders are trialling a second attempt based on Apple and Google technology.
Privacy campaigners say England’s tracing scheme has broken a key data protection law, although the government says there was no evidence of data being used unlawfully.

What about other parts of the UK?

Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to roll out a smartphone contact-tracing app.
Scotland’s system is called NHS Test and Protect, while Wales’s ”test, trace, protect” system launched on 1 June.

How do I avoid scammers?

England’s NHS Test and Trace service will call only from 0300 0135 000. It will not ask you:

  • for bank details/payments
  • for details of any other accounts, such as social media
  • to set up a password or PIN over the phone
  • to call a premium-rate number, such as those starting 09 or 087

What about sick pay?

If people can’t work from home, the government says employers must ensure any self-isolating employee receives sick pay – and allow them to use paid leave days if they prefer.
From September, workers on universal credit in some local lockdown areas who are told to self-isolate and can’t work from home will be able to claim a daily payment of £13.
Self-employed people who are self-isolating but can’t work from home can apply for an income support scheme grant, the government says, although this is designed to cover three months’ worth of profits.

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