Guidance: Daily contact testing study

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About the study

Around 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 have no symptoms and could be spreading it without knowing. People who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 are more likely to be infected than those who have not.

A statement in March 2021 from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggests that regularly testing contacts of confirmed cases is an effective way to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and could potentially reduce the need for self-isolation by contacts of positive cases.

The study will help Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace understand:

  • how useful daily contact testing is at finding new positive cases of COVID-19
  • whether it has an impact on transmission of the virus
  • how we could improve this service if we offered it to everyone in England

The study is led by PHE and funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Its purpose is to find out if daily testing can replace the need for self-isolating for people without symptoms if their test result is negative.

How the study works

Currently, everyone whos been notified by NHS Test and Trace that theyve been in contact with someone whos tested positive for COVID-19 in England must self-isolate for 10 full days.

NHS Test and Trace will invite people who have been traced as a contact to take part in the study, providing they do not have symptoms.

The study will compare 2 approaches to routine testing of contacts:

  • group 1 participants will be given 1 PCR test. They must self-isolate as normal for the full 10-day self-isolation period even if their test result is negative
  • group 2 participants will be given 7 rapid lateral flow tests to test daily with 24-hour release from self-isolation, if the test is negative. They will also receive 2 PCR tests

Participants will be placed into one of the study groups at random.

Only group 2 participants that continue to test negative and do not have symptoms are excused from the legal duty to self-isolate each day. Group 2 participants will have a legal duty to tell their employer that theyre taking part in the study, and if they stop taking part for any reason.

It is only by taking part in this, and other approved NHS and PHE studies, that participants will be excused from the legal duty to self-isolate.

Find out about the different types of COVID-19 test on NHS.UK.

Who can take part

People who are traced as contacts can take part if they:

People will not be able to take part if they have been informed that they have been in contact with someone whos tested positive with a suspected new variant, or within a known workplace or school where a new variant is circulating.

If participants develop symptoms or test positive during the study, they must self-isolate immediately and wait for the results of their follow-up PCR test.

What participants need to do during the study

As contacts of positive cases, participants in group 2 have been instructed to follow additional safety measures while taking part.

Theyll be asked to reduce close contact with others as far as possible by only making essential trips outside the home for:

  • work or volunteering
  • education
  • buying food (if no one else can do it for them)
  • exercise in an outdoor space
  • a medical or personal emergency

Theyll be asked to avoid:

  • being in small, poorly ventilated public places for more than 15 minutes
  • visiting others indoors
  • using public transport, unless for essential trips
  • visiting people who are shielding, in care homes, or hospitals

Theyll be asked to further reduce risk of infection to others by:

  • opening windows wherever they can
  • avoiding shouting, singing or talking loudly, particularly when indoors

If you have any questions about the study that are not covered by this guidance, please email:

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