How does test and trace work? All you need to know about the new coronavirus NHS system launching today

It's being rolled out today...

(Image credit: Getty Images)

From today, a coronavirus contact Test and Trace scheme has been launched by the government and NHS in order to help deal with the outbreak.

The initiative has been rolled out in order to try and and track the spread of COVID-19, and to allow the country to move out of some of the lockdown restrictions (opens in new tab) still in place.

The service will have around 25,000 contact tracing staff, and the capacity to trace over 10,000 contacts a day.

Many European countries already have a similar test, track and trace system in place - so how exactly does it work?

How does test and trace work?

On launching the scheme, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock explained, “As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus (opens in new tab), 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."

It means that there will soon - hopefully - be a move towards more localised lockdown measures, rather than a blanket lockdown for the entire country, based on outbreaks of the virus.

So what do you need to do about it?

Essentially, things aren't changing massively for the general public yet.

The government are asking that if you have coronavirus symptoms, that you isolate for seven days, and the rest of your household isolate for 14 days. This guidance is the same as previous guidance, and has not changed.

However, the one change now is that anyone with symptoms should book themselves a Covid-19 test online - find out how to apply for a coronavirus test if you're not an essential worker here. Or, you can phone 119 to book in a test.

If your test comes back negative, you need not do anything, and you can return to normal.

However, if your test is confirmed to be positive, you will be contacted by the contact tracing teams, who will ask you where you've been recently, and who you have been in contact with. They will also ask you for any contact details of these people.

If the NHS test and trace teams need to contact you, it will be via this number: 0300 013 5000. Remember that they will never ask you for any payment or personal details such as medical information, bank details or passwords.

The tracing teams will then contact those people either via text or email with instructions for them to go into isolation for 14 days, whether they have symptoms or not.

how does test and trace work

Credit: Getty Images

Who counts as a close contact?

With trips to the supermarket, pharmacist, doctors and now, to work, a big part of many of our routines right now, it's logical to question whether every stranger we encounter will need to isolate if they've come into contact with someone who develops symptoms.

But the government have explained that only 'close' contacts need be alerted.

These count as people you came into contact with 48 hours before developing symptoms, and the time since you got symptoms.

According to them, a close contact counts as someone you've spent more than 15 minutes with at a distance of less than 2 metres, and people you have had direct contact with. These include:

  • members of your household
  • partners
  • people you have travelled in a car with
  • people you have had a conversation with at a distance of less than 1 metre
  • people you have seen in a setting with others e.g a GP surgery or school

If you are contacted and informed that you've been in contact with someone who has coronavirus, you will need to isolate for 14 days, but the rest of your household will not, Matt Hancock has confirmed.

Is there a test and trace app?

No - the accompanying NHS test and trace app has not yet launched in England.

A tracing app is currently being tested on the Isle of Wight, and there are hopes to launch the app in England next month.

Credit: Getty Images

Is the test and trace system being enforced?

Baroness Dido Harding, who is running the NHS Test and Trace scheme (opens in new tab), explained that while the Health Secretary does have the power to fine people for not self-isolating, it won't be strictly enforced.

She instead revealed that they will be urging the public to 'play their part' in helping to tackle the virus, via the scheme, given how it could benefit us all.

“I think everyone involved in it has real faith in the British public’s ability to follow our guidance. If you look at what’s happened over the last two months, that’s what we as a country have done", Dido said.

She continued, “So we’re not launching this with fines and penalties for people who don’t self-isolate, or who don’t give us their contacts. What we’re doing is asking everyone to play their part in protecting themselves, their families, and their loved ones."

Credit: Getty Images

On This Morning today, Matt Hancock urged that the more people who follow the system, the better chance we have of easing some lockdown restrictions.

He said, “I hope we’ll soon be able to allow families to see each other again at more than two metres to keep that safe distance and lift some more of the measures. The more people that follow these instructions with this new Test and Trace system, the more people are going to be able to get the benefit of the lifting of the wider lockdown.”

What will happen if there is an outbreak locally?

If the NHS Test and Trace system detects a local outbreak, testing may well be sent to the location on a wide scale.

It's also been confirmed that those who will need to isolate will receive statutory sick pay, even if they have no symptoms.

Senior Digital Writer

Amy is Senior Digital Writer across Woman & Home, GoodTo and Woman, writing about everything from celebrity news to health, fashion and beauty features. When she isn't obsessing over the latest dress drop from Marks & Spencer, you'll most likely find Amy out running, or with a cup of tea in hand ready to dive into a gripping new Netflix series.