How COVID-19 contact tracing will work in England

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In recent weeks, the Government has employed 25,000 contact tracers who have been tasked to carry out detective work to find the people who have been in contact with those known to be infected with the coronavirus. As well as this, trials have been underway throughout May for the NHS Contact Tracing App in the Isle of Wight and this is expected to be launched across the rest of England this month. So, how does it all work?

Who can get tested?
Right now, anyone displaying symptoms of the coronavirus can get tested. If you test positive for the virus, you will be asked to log these details onto the NHS Track and Trace website. You will then need to recollect the places you have recently visited and provide the names and details of those you were in close contact within the 48 hours before you started to display symptoms. ‘Close contact’ is defined as those that you spend over 15 minutes with without maintaining a distance of 2m or over and people you’ve had direct contact with of a distance less than 1m.

Manual contact tracing
The newly recruited contact tracers have the role of getting in touch with everyone who has been in close and sustained contact with someone who is known to be infected with the virus. Anyone who is contacted will then be asked to self-isolate for two weeks. The idea behind this is that it allows for more targeted lockdowns, which could eventually negate the need for a national lockdown. When the contact tracers reach out to those you have been into contact with, they will not reveal your identity.

If you’re contacted by the tracers, you will be expected to quarantine. This means you should not leave your home for any reason including exercising outdoors or food shopping. Other members of your household will not be expected to isolate but should take extra precautions in terms of social distancing and hygiene. At present, there are no measures in place to enforce this self-isolation, however, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that while he is sure people will comply, “we will not hesitate to introduce tougher measures, for example making visits to check they’re home or issuing fines if they are found outside the house”.

For businesses, you must ensure that any employees who are self-isolating receive sick pay if they are unable to work from home during this time – you can also give them the option to use their paid leave days. You may be able to claim this back through the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

NHS Covid-19 Contact Tracing App
The NHS contact tracing app will serve a similar purpose to contact tracers, but it aims to deliver a smarter, more seamless process. This app will automatically alert people if they have been in contact with someone who carries the virus, monitoring your movements through Bluetooth technology. Unlike the manual contact tracing method, this means that you can find out if you’ve been in contact with the virus, even if you aren’t known personally to the person with the virus. In theory, this app will be programmed to better understand who should quarantine and who shouldn’t.

The app will be voluntary at first, although there are speculations that some businesses could make having this app and a clean bill of health a requirement of entering their premises. Once they’ve downloaded the app, users will simply need to keep their phones with them whenever they leave the house and ensure that their Bluetooth is enabled. If you experience COVID-19 symptoms, you would then be expected to log these into the app. The data will then be analysed and alerts will be sent out to anyone you have been in contact with who are deemed at high-risk. You will then be tested. If the results are positive, they will need to remain in self-isolation for two weeks. If they’re negative, they will be told they can stop self-isolating.

How this affects you
For those who run a business, you will likely be concerned about the impact that these periods of localised self-isolation could have on your company, especially if you’re reliant on certain members of the team to carry out particular tasks. To negate your fears, preparation is key. It’s best to make a plan now so that if someone is taken out of action, you have measures in place so another member of staff can carry out the task in question.

How NHS Test and Trace will contact you

You’ll be contacted by email, text or phone.

Text messages will come from the NHS. Calls will come from 0300 0135000.

Children under 18 will be contacted by phone wherever possible and asked for their parent or guardian’s permission to continue the call.

You’ll be asked to sign in to the NHS Test and Trace contact tracing website at

If you cannot use the contact tracing website, they will call you.