Covid-19: UK launches ‘test and trace’ system to ease lockdown
Keen to reopen parts of the economy, the Boris Johnson government on Thursday launched its next phase of response to the coronavirus pandemic: a ‘test and trace’ system that involves thousands of tracers tracking down people to limit the spread of the virus.
The system was launched in England but will not be fully operational until the end of June. It is intended to help lift blanket lockdown restrictions and move towards more localised and targeted measures, as the UK’s death toll reached 37,460 and 267,240 cases as of Wednesday.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar systems, while Wales is due to launch its version in early June.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “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”.
“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…This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally”.
Under the system, tracers will text, email or call people who test positive with coronavirus and ask who they have had contact with. Any of those contacts deemed at risk of infection will be told to isolate for 14 days, even if they are not sick.
Those who have already had the virus will also be asked to self-isolate. People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has a positive test will need to stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop unknowingly spreading the virus.
The system includes 25,000 dedicated contact tracing staff with the capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 people who test positive for coronavirus per day, officials said.
“The rollout of the NHS Test and Trace service has been made possible by the rapid expansion of testing. The largest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history has been created and will soon have the capacity to carry out 200,000 tests a day. This includes 50 drive-through sites, more than 100 mobile testing units and three mega laboratories” they added.
The system also includes an app that is currently under trial in the Isle of Wight and is expected to be rolled out elsewhere in the coming weeks.