New COVID-19 test and trace service launched in UK

New COVID-19 test and trace service launched in UK

A new test and trace service operated by the National Health Service (NHS) got underway in England and Scotland on Thursday as the next stage in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and bringing the UK out of lockdown in gradual steps.

The UK government said the new service will help identify, contain and control coronavirus and reduce the spread of the deadly virus, which has claimed over 37,000 lives in Britain.

Under the new system, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and will need to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within two metres for more than 15 minutes.

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People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has a positive test must stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop unknowingly spreading the virus.

“As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“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. This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally,” he said.

If those in isolation develop symptoms, they can book a test online or by calling the NHS. If they test positive, they must continue to stay at home for seven days or until their symptoms have passed. If they test negative, they must complete the 14-day isolation period.

Members of their household will not have to stay at home unless the person identified becomes symptomatic, at which point they must also self-isolate for 14 days to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.

“This is a brand new service which has been launched at incredible speed and scale. NHS Test and Trace already employs over 40,000 people, both directly and through trusted partners, who are working hard to deliver both testing and contact tracing at scale,” said Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace.

“NHS Test and Trace will not succeed on its own – we all need to play our part. This is why we are working hand-in-hand with communities and local authorities across the country to tailor support at a local level, and respond quickly to local needs. And we will be constantly developing and improving as we go,” she said.

As part of the next stage, the government said it has also expanded testing availability for children aged under five, to help support the phased opening of schools and childcare settings in England from June 1. Now, all symptomatic individuals in England will be able to access a test if they need one, with all symptomatic individuals in Wales able to book tests from Saturday.

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Among the devolved administrations, Scotland has a similar version going live on Thursday and Wales is set to kick off its system from Monday, with Northern Ireland already having a test and trace system in place.

A package of 300 million pound of new funding has been made available to local authorities to work with NHS Test and Trace to develop local outbreak control plans, building on the work already done so far to respond to coronavirus.

Their plans will focus on identifying and containing potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools, ensuring testing capacity is deployed effectively and helping the most vulnerable in self-isolation access essential services in their area. A new Local Government Advisory Board has also been established to support this work.

Professor John Newton, National Coordinator of Test and Trace, added: "At this critical point in the nation’s response to coronavirus we are launching a service that will enable us to emerge more safely from lockdown. To control the virus we still need to continue with social distancing and good hygiene, but we also now have a comprehensive test and trace service to stop new cases spreading.

"This approach will allow us to gradually return to more normal personal, social and economic lives while recognising that we have to stay alert and respond rapidly to any advice from the new service."

The government said that work on the NHS COVID-19 smartphone app continues following a successful rollout in the Isle of Wight region of the UK. The app, which will form a part of the NHS Test and Trace service, is due to be launched in the coming weeks once contact tracing is up and running and is expected to "significantly" extend the speed and reach of contact tracing.

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