Anyone in England or Scotland who develops symptoms should immediately order a Covid-19 test from today, as both governments launch their ‘test and trace’ strategies,
A positive Covid-19 test will prompt contact tracers to get in touch to map any recent close contacts, with those identified told they must isolate for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus, even if they have no symptoms.
The strategy will enable the both governments to ‘learn more about the virus’ and ‘explore how we could go further in easing infection control measures’, it said.
Questioned by MPs on the House of Commons liaison committee this afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson clarified that this is only advice at the moment, but that the Government ‘will consider bringing in financial sanctions’ if people don’t do as they are told.
The strategy also includes the Covid-19 app, which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, expected to be launched across England in the ‘coming weeks’.
The Government’s announcement, which said everyone is now eligible for coronavirus testing regardless of age, revealed that the new NHS Test and Trace service already employs 40,000 people. This includes 25,000 contact tracers who will have the capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 Covid-19-positive people per day.
Under the plans, local government will manage local outbreaks including ramping up testing and considering temporary lockdowns, backed by a £300m investment and supported by a new national Joint Biosecurity Centre.
Using dedicated contact tracing staff, online services and local public health experts to identify any close recent contacts, NHS Test and Trace will alert those most at risk of having the virus, DHSC said.
Health and social care 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, and protect our NHS.
‘This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.’
Official Covid-19 symptoms that should prompt a test now include a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a change in sense of smell or taste. People should book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or, if they don’t have access to the internet, by calling 119.
The DHSC said this comes as it ‘will soon have the capacity to carry out 200,000 tests a day’, including 50 drive-through sites, more than 100 mobile testing units and three ‘mega laboratories’.
The launch of Scotland’s new Test and Protect system comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce an easing of some lockdown measures later.