Coronavirus: What is NHS test and trace and how does it work?

28 May 2020, 12:06

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

What is the new NHS coronavirus test and trace scheme and what do I do if they tell me to self-isolate?

On Thursday Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the launch of NHS Test and Trace across England which is seen as a key component to the easing the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Mr Hancock said the program will help the country "move away from blanket national lockdown towards a more targeted lockdown hunting down the virus where we find it."

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But what is the test and trace system, how does it work and how will it impact on you? Here's everything we know so far.

What do I have to do if I have Covid-19 symptoms?

If you begin showing coronavirus symptoms such as a fever, continuous cough or loss of smell or taste then you should self-isolate immediately for at least seven days and order a test.

Anyone else in your household should also self-isolate for 14 days from when you began showing symptoms.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC you can order a test by calling 119 or going to NHS.UK/coronavirus.

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How can I get a test?

Once you request a test you will be asked to either attend a test site or carry out a test at home.

The Government is aiming to provide results within 48 hours of taking a test, but warned some results may take longer.

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What happens if my test comes back negative?

If your test is negative you and your household can come out of self-isolation.

What if the result shows I have coronavirus?

If your test comes back positive you and your household must complete your self-isolation periods.

The Department of Health said within 24 hours you will also be contacted via phone, text or email by the NHS Test and Trace programme and asked to provide details of people you have been in close contact with - defined as being within two metres for more than 15 minutes without protective equipment.

You will be asked to do this online through a secure website or called by one of the NHS contact tracers.

What happens if I get a call from NHS contact tracers?

If you have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 you will be contacted either by text or email and asked to login confidentially to the NHS Test and Trace website.

If you are unable to do this online, a trained call handler will ring you and talk you through what you need to do.

You will be told to isolate for 14 days from your last contact with the person with Covid-19, even if you do not have symptoms.

Other members of your household do not need to isolate if you do not have symptoms.

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What if I develop coronavirus symptoms after being in contact with someone who has tested positive?

If you develop symptoms, your household should immediately begin to self-isolate for 14 days and you should order a test.

If it is positive, the test and trace process will begin again.

If you test negative you will still be asked to complete your 14-day isolation.

Will I still get paid if I have to self-isolate and can't work?

Those self-isolating will be eligible for statutory sick pay, while those who are self-employed will be able to access cash grants.

You might also be able to get support from your local council such as having food or medical supplies delivered, the Government said.

How will the system be enforced? Will there be fines?

Initially, the system will rely on you and everyone else acting responsibly and following the guidance if you are told to isolate. The Health Secretary told LBC that there would be no fines to start with.

But if the system of voluntary compliance does not work, ministers will be able to bring in tougher measures which could see people potentially subjected to spot checks and fined if they are not following the rules.

What if I've already tested positive for Covid-19 and recovered - will I need to isolate again if contacted?

You must still isolate as instructed because it is not yet known whether having the disease in the past means you are now immune, or whether you can still act as a carrier who can infect others.

What about the NHSX contact tracing app?

A contact tracing app is being trialled on the Isle of Wight but it has been delayed by several weeks.

Matt Hancock said on Thursday that the app would be launched "in the next couple of weeks."

What about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The Scottish Government's Test and Protect programme also launched on Thursday, while Wales's contact tracing plan is set to go live on Monday.

A pilot contract tracing programme began in Northern Ireland at the start of April and has been ramped up to a seven-day operation which will last for at least a year, health leaders there have said.