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9 things you need to know about test and trace in London

The new NHS test and trace system gets underway today (Thursday May 28) – here’s what to expect

Written by
Laura Richards

It’s been a long time coming, but last night (Wednesday May 27), the government announced that England’s contact-tracing system would finally get underway. The idea is that people who have been in contact with those who have tested positive for coronavirus will be contacted and told to self-isolate. The hope is that individual isolations can replace a more widespread lockdown in England. Here’s what we know about test and trace so far as it begins in the capital. 

1. Anybody who tests positive for the virus will be contacted by the NHS test and trace team – and there are 25,000 people, known as contact tracers, working on this for NHS England, via text message, email or phone call.

2. Those contacted will be asked to provide details of people they’ve come into close contact with. This would include people within the same household, but also take into account anybody who had been within two metres of them for more than 15 minutes. Information can be submitted via a test and trace website, or over the phone for those without internet access.

3. NHS contact tracers will then reach out to the contacts provided and ask them to stay at home in quarantine for 14 days, even if they aren’t presenting symptoms. Those 14 days start from the last contact with the person who tested positive. They won’t be told who it was they were in contact with. There is capacity for contact tracers to reach out to 10,000 people a day.

4. Household members won’t need to isolate alongside those in quarantine, unless they present symptoms in this period. Although, they should follow social-distancing guidelines in this instance. And keep up that hand-washing.

5. If those in quarantine develop symptoms within the 14-day period, they must order a test by visiting here or dialling 119. Household members must also then begin a 14-day self-isolation period and follow measures mentioned in step three above.  

6. If they test positive, they must continue to stay at home for a further seven days. The NHS is currently aiming to deliver results from tests within 48 hours.

7. If the results are negative, they must stay at home for the remainder of the 14-day period, in case the virus is not yet detectable. 

8. A contact tracing app is yet to launch. In other countries, manual tracing has been complemented with mobile tracking – the use of a mobile app to monitor location data to identify people who someone may have come into contact with beyond their network (eg on the tube or in a shop) – but the UK is yet to launch its version. However, a free NHS smartphone app is due to arrive soon and is currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight. Once ready, people will be asked to download it and run it in the background using bluetooth as they go about their business in London. People with symptoms could then flag that on the app so the NHS could alert those who had come into contact with them. 

9. People may be asked to self-isolate more than once, should they come into contact with people testing positive for the virus on more than one occasion. 

See the full NHS guidelines for test and trace here.

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