Test and trace system

The government has launched a test and trace system as a key part of its coronavirus recovery strategy. The service seeks to ensure anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus, and introduces tracing of close recent contacts for those who have tested positive.

There are three key elements of the service: 

  • Increased availability of testing – with a planned increase in national testing capacity to 200,000 per day. This should be supported by 100 mobile testing units, 50 drive-through sites and 3 large testing laboratories. Testing is also now available for those under the age of 5.
  • A tracing system – 25,000 staff will be employed (with many already in place) to identify people who have been in close contact with someone carrying the virus and alert them of their need to self-isolate. Tracing will be supported by the rollout of the NHS app “in the coming weeks”
  • Local containment and response – A national Joint Biosecurity Centre will work with Public Health England, local authorities and their health protection and field epidemiology experts to form local response plans and react quickly to any outbreaks in their areas.   


The government’s guidance applies to all sectors, but notes that the tracing system will enable problematic contacts with, or outbreaks in health and care settings to be escalated to local public health experts who will "liaise as necessary with the manager of the most relevant setting" and "agree on the most appropriate action".

Currently, NHS staff need to comply with the normal isolation rules. These state that someone who has come into close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 will need to self-isolate for 14 days. NHS staff have improved access to testing: if staff test positive they will need to remain in isolation for a further 7 days, or for the remainder of their initial 14-day period from point of contact if they test negative.

People will be deemed to have been in "contact" if they "have had close contact, been coughed on, or spent more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone with COVID-19". However, the government has stated that people working in health and social care professional roles who have correctly used PPE as part of their employment are not considered to be a close contact.  More information on self-isolation rules can be found within the government’s resources on the test and trace system, and guidance for workplaces below.


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