Test and trace - what to expect

Dr William Bird William Bird
Test and trace - what to expect? by William Bird

The next step in the fight against the spread of Covid-19 started at 9am this morning (Thursday).

‘Contact tracing’ aims to contain an outbreak by ensuring that anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person can be tested and asked to self-isolate.

This will show where new outbreaks are happening early on and to stop it spreading further. If successful, the system could help the country out of a national lockdown and instead replaced with localised lockdowns so that the virus can be isolated.

The system has been successful in South Korea and was in place in the UK until 12th March. It begins today in England, a version is already in place in Northern Ireland and will be adopted by Wales shortly.

A team of 18,000 contact tracers has been recruited who will work from home and phone people who have tested positive for the virus. Over a 20-minute phone call, they’ll ascertain together who they have been in contact with – that is within 2m and for more than 15 minutes, without PPE (personal protective equipment).

The call handlers will then in turn phone those people and advise them and their family to self-isolate for 14 days. If you show symptoms, the rules are that you must isolate and get a test, either by visiting www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.

The Scottish Government has also launched Test and Protect today. If you have symptoms visit NHS Inform or call 0800 028 2816.

If you are contacted by NHS test and trace, you must stay at home, to help break the chain of transmission.

Dr William Bird, founder of the Beat the Street game and CEO of Intelligent Health, is also a doctor working on the NHS frontline. He said: “For this track and trace system to work, we all have to play our part and isolate if required. Don’t forget that some people can carry the virus and not show any symptoms, so it’s important that everyone takes notice of what the team asks. Hopefully if we all learn to use this system, we’ll be able to return more quickly to a kind of normality.

“The second part of the process is the NHS app that tells you when your smartphone has been in contact, again for 15 minutes and within 2 metres with someone who has reported themselves through the app. This app is set to be launched in June.

“More excitingly, dogs are being trained to sniff out the Coronavirus before symptoms appear in the same way that they can detect some conditions such as cancer and diabetes. A UK trial is about to begin, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, along with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University.

“While we wait to see how all of this will help, remember that we still need to get that R number down. As ever, wash your hands as often as possible, stay 2m away from people and please continue to stay active!”