Detailed guide: NHS Test and Trace: how it works

NHS Test and Trace:

  • ensures that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus, and also includes targeted asymptomatic testing of NHS and social care staff and care home residents
  • helps trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus and, if necessary, notifies them that they must self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus

We have introduced this service to help return life more to normal, in a way that is safe and protects our NHS and social care. The service allows us to trace the spread of the virus and isolate new infections and play a vital role in giving us early warning if the virus is increasing again, locally or nationally.

How NHS Test and Trace helps fight the virus

NHS Test and Trace will help to control the rate of reproduction (R), reduce the spread of the infection and save lives. By playing your part through the actions set out below, you will directly help to contain the virus by reducing its spread. This means that, thanks to your efforts, we will be able to go as far as it is safe to go in easing lockdown measures.

Playing your part:

  • if you develop symptoms, you must continue to follow the rules to self-isolate with other members of your household and get a test to find out if you have coronavirus
  • if you test positive for coronavirus, you must share information promptly and accurately about your recent contacts through NHS Test and Trace to help us alert other people who may need to self-isolate
  • if you have had close recent contact with someone who has coronavirus, you must self-isolate if NHS Test and Trace advises you to do so
  • if you are returning from travel abroad it is important to check whether you need to self-isolate

This specific guidance applies in England only. All 4 administrations are working closely together to have a consistent and joined-up approach to testing and tracing.

Definitions

Self-isolation if you have symptoms means you and all household members must remain at home. Do not go outside your home for any reason, that is to work, school or public areas, and do not use public transport or taxis. The guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection page has more information on self-isolation.

Contact means a person who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and who may or may not live with them.

It is a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 or if you are identified as a contact and told to self-isolate by Test and Trace. Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from 1,000.

How NHS Test and Trace works

Part 1: for someone with symptoms of coronavirus

  1. isolate: as soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, medical advice is clear: you must self-isolate for at least 10 days. Anyone else in your household must self-isolate for 10 days from when you started having symptoms

  2. test: get a free NHS test immediately to check if you have coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access

  3. results: if your test is positive, you must complete the remainder of your 10-day self-isolation. Anyone in your household must also complete self-isolation for 10 days from when you started having symptoms. Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from 1,000. If your test is negative you will no longer be required to self-isolate, though you may wish to do so if you still feel unwell and have symptoms similar to coronavirus. If your test is negative, other household members no longer need to self-isolate.

  4. share contacts: if you test positive for coronavirus, NHS Test and Trace will send you a text or email alert or call you with instructions of how to share details of people with whom you have had close, recent contact and places you have visited. It is important that you respond quickly and accurately so that we can give appropriate advice to those who need it. You will be told to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by one of our contract tracers. If NHS Test and Trace contact tracers are unable to contact you for 24 hours, they may pass your case to your local authority to follow up by phone or in person.

Part 2: if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace because you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus

  1. alert: you will be alerted by NHS Test and Trace if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The alert will usually come by text, email or phone call. You should then log on to the NHS Test and Trace website, which is normally the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you must do. Under-18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue

  2. isolate: you will be told to begin self-isolation for 10 days from your last contact with the person who has tested positive. Its really important to do this even if you dont feel unwell because you could still be infectious to others. Failure to self-isolate for the full time period can result in a fine, starting from 1,000. Your household doesnt need to self-isolate with you, if you do not have symptoms, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with you at home

  3. test if needed: if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household must self-isolate immediately at home for 10 days and you must get a test to check if you have coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access. If your test is positive, you must continue to stay at home for at least 10 days and we will get in touch to ask about your contacts since they must self-isolate. If your test is negative, you must still complete your 10-day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet this is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.

The NHS COVID-19 app

The new NHS COVID-19 app, now available to download for free in England and Wales, is the fastest way to see if youre at risk from coronavirus. The faster you know, the quicker you can alert and protect your loved ones and community.

The app has a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. It uses proven technology from Apple and Google, designed to protect every users privacy.

Part 1: people who develop symptoms of coronavirus

This section applies if you have symptoms of coronavirus or you have received a positive test result.

When to self-isolate

The medical advice is clear: you must self-isolate if you have coronavirus symptoms or live in the same household as somebody who does. The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • high temperature this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • new, continuous cough this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste this means youve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

For more information, read the further guidance on symptoms.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you must self-isolate straight away for 10 days or longer if you still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell/taste.

If you live in the same household as someone with coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate straight away for 10 days.

Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from 1,000.

How to get a test

Anyone with symptoms can get a coronavirus test, whatever their age.

If you dont have access to the internet, you can get a test by phoning 119.

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