Coronavirus: Wales starts contact tracing system as the lockdown is slightly eased

1 June 2020, 11:03

Mounted police patrol Barry Island amid the Covid-19 lockdown
Mounted police patrol Barry Island amid the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: PA
Peter Gillibrand

By Peter Gillibrand

With the lockdown slightly eased in Wales – a new contact tracing system has been rolled out across the country.

Anyone who has a positive coronavirus test will now be contacted by a team of 600 tracers and asked for details of everyone they’ve been in close contact with while they’ve had symptoms.

The criteria includes being within 2 metres of someone for longer than 15 minutes or being with 1 metre of a person for 1 minute or longer.

Those ‘close contacts’ will then be asked to self-isolate for 14 days to stop the virus from spreading.

Over the last few weeks, local health boards and local authorities have been trialling the system ready for the launch today.

Vaughan Gething, Wales’ Health Minister, said contact tracing is vital if more restrictions are going to be eased.

“Today’s roll-out of the contact tracing element of our Test, Trace, Protect strategy is a significant step forward in the gradual move out of lockdown.”

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In May, the Minister made a commitment to the strategy – which promised to increase testing of critical workers, at home-testing and a new app to track symptoms and contact others who have symptoms or have tested positive.

The contact tracing system will use an online system from next Monday.

“Over the last few months, thanks to the help of the public and the way they have followed the stay-at-home rules, we have managed to slow the spread of the virus to the point where we can today ease the regulations to enable family and friends to meet again,” he said.

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From today – people in Wales can now meet another household outdoors and in the local area – but must follow social distancing. That’s after the latest scientific advice showing the virus survives for only minutes outside but for hours on indoor surfaces.

People who are shielding can also head outdoors for the first time in months.

“Contact tracing is a tried and tested method of bringing outbreaks of infectious diseases under control and we hope it will do the same with coronavirus – but for it to be successful, we need everyone’s help and cooperation in sharing details about their movements and contacts.”

“We also need people to self-isolate if they may be at risk.”

On Sunday, the Welsh Government made a U-turn, surprising many, by letting people who have been shielding for months, outdoors for unlimited exercise and to see other people, providing it’s outside.

“The scientific advice is clear – we need a contact tracing system in place before we begin to lift restrictions further.”

In the last week, an online portal was launched allowing people to book tests, and the testing capacity has been increased to 9,000 tests a day as part of the Test, Trace and Protect Strategy.

But while the Welsh Government noted on Friday that Wales has passed the first peak of infection with rates falling… the R rate in the country remained at 0.8 at the last review of lockdown. At the end of last week, the First Minister admitted there was a limited headroom for changes to the lockdown – and is still taking a cautious approach, with the advice in Wales changing from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay local’.

The next lockdown review legally has to be done by the 18th of June – and the First Minister hinted that some non-essential retail shops could be allowed to open, but that would rely on controlling the virus, which is what the new contact tracing system is aiming to do.

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