NHS England’s Covid-19 Track and Trace system will launch this morning and the government believe it will be central to getting the country back to normality faster.
A team of 25,000 contact tracers will start locating people who have been close to someone infected with the virus from this morning. They will then contact those people and inform them they must self-isolate for 14 days even if they do not have symptoms.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the plans at yesterday evening’s No 10 press briefing and told the public that it was their ‘civic duty’ to adhere to the new rules. He said until there is an effective treatment or a vaccine, track and trace will be a ‘big part’ of getting back to ‘doing more of the things that make life worth living, without risking safety’.
He said there are currently around 5,000 to 7,000 unknown positive cases of coronavirus in the country and the system will be crucial in slowing the spread and bringing the death toll down.
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However, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson warned there are ‘very key bits’ missing from the scheme that still need to be built, including an accompanying app that is still delayed by several weeks.
Mr Hopson said he was pleased the government had watered down claims it had a ‘world class’ test and trace system ready to start from June 1, ‘because we clearly don’t’.
He said the speed of testing needed to be improved, comparing international standards of having tests back within 24 hours with reports of tests taking up to three to five days, as well as referencing the need to provide support locally.
But he said today would start to bring significant change to the country’s test and trace capabilities.
How exactly does the scheme work?
NHS England’s Track and Trace system will work to find people who are currently infected with the virus. Tracers will be able to track down the contacts of around 10,000 people per day.
This will depend heavily on people isolating from the moment they have symptoms, or as soon as they believe they have come into contact with someone who does, and making sure they get a test.
Everyone is now eligible to have a test, including under fives.
NHS tracers will then work ‘like detectives’ to trace those who have tested positive and work with them to identify their movements and who they have come into contact with.
The contacts who they have come into contact with will then be told to isolate for 14 days – even if they have no symptoms and test negative.
They will be 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.
Officials hope that through the system they will be able to build a better picture of infection rates and slow the spread of the virus by identifying people who are infected earlier.
The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said previously that a person is most infectious during the onset of the virus and usually before they even show symptoms.
Mr Hancock explained yesterday: ‘First, through testing we hunt down the virus finding out who is infected right now. And I use “we” very deliberately because we all have our part to play.
‘This is a national effort and we all have a role. If you have symptoms you must isolate immediately and get yourself a test’.
Executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, said the scheme was key in helping to lift lockdown restrictions.
She said: ‘NHS Test and Trace is designed to enable the vast majority of us to be able to get on with our lives in a much more normal way.
‘We will be trading national lockdown for individual isolation if we have symptoms.
‘Instead of 60 million people being in national lockdown, a much smaller number of us will be told we need to stay at home, either for seven days if we are ill or 14 days if we have been in close contact.’
How will I be informed if I need to isolate?
In line with current guidelines, the public must still self-isolate for seven days if they develop symptoms or test positive. Their household must also isolate for 14 days too.
Anyone with symptoms must book a test immediately. If the test proves negative, the household can come out of isolation.
But if the test is positive, NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will call them, email or send a text asking them to share contact details of the people they have been in close contact with and the places they have visited.
If the person is under 18, the team will call them but a parent or guardian must give permission to continue the call.
The team then emails or texts those close contacts, telling them they must stay home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms, to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
Their household members do not need to isolate at this point. If the contact themselves then 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.
How do I get a Covid-19 test and how long will it take to get results back?
You can book a test at a drive through testing centre or, if necessary, have one delivered to your home.
Officials are aiming to get results back within 24 hours but it is expected to take a little longer as the scheme gets up and running.
Baroness Harding said: ‘Yesterday, the turnaround time of our tests – we returned 84 per cent of all tests in our drive-in centres within 24 hours.
‘And 95 per cent of all tests within 48 hours. I still don’t think that’s good enough. It’s got to get better and better.’
What happens if I don’t take part and will I be fined?
The scheme will be voluntary at first and will depend on the public logging their symptoms, self-isolating and making sure they get a test.
However, the prime minister and the health secretary have warned that if people do not take part in the scheme, the government could start forcing people to comply.
Fines could be imposed, while spot-checks at addresses, or phone calls to landlines to check that someone is at home could also be implemented. It is not yet known how much the financial sanctions could cost.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care told MailOnline: ‘We are confident that the public will want to play their part in reducing the spread of the virus to keep themselves, their families and communities safe and to protect the NHS. This means complying with advice to self-isolate.
‘However, if we find that people are not complying with isolation instructions, we will not hesitate to introduce tougher measures, for example making visits to check they’re at home or issuing fines if they are found outside the house.’
Mr Hancock told the Downing Street press conference yesterday: ‘If you are contacted by NHS test and trace instructing you to isolate, you must.
‘It is your civic duty – so you avoid unknowingly spreading the virus and you help to break the chain of transmission’.
Speaking about fining those who flout rules, he added: ‘Now of course we could also mandate that, but in the first instance we’re not going to.
‘This will be voluntary at first because we trust everyone to do the right thing.
‘But, we can quickly make it mandatory if that is what it takes. Because, if we don’t collectively make this work, then the only way forward is to keep the lockdown.’
Boris Johnson told MPs during yesterday’s Public Liaison Committee meeting that fines would remain ‘on the table’ if people do not stick to the guidelines.
He told the committee: ‘We will be asking people to stay at home. If they don’t follow that advice, what we will be saying is we will consider what sanctions may be necessary.’
Many have also expressed concerns around sharing their personal information and where that will go.
In response to a viewer raising GDPR concerns on BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Hancock said: ‘There are very strict confidentiality rules that are in place.
‘Actually, in practice, we’ve found that only a tiny proportion of people have that sort of reaction.’
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Source: Metro News UK