Coronavirus 'Test, Trace, Protect' system launches in Wales - here's what you need to know

Credit: PA

A new contact tracing system is being rolled out across Wales from Monday 1st June, as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The Welsh Government's 'Test, Trace, Protect' strategy is designed to help control the spread of coronavirus.

From now, anyone who tests positive for the virus will be contacted by a 'tracer', who will ask the person for details of everyone they have recently had close contact with.

All of these close contacts will be followed up and they will each be asked to self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution to prevent the virus spreading further.

Here is some more information about how contact tracing will work.

  • What is 'Test, Trace, Protect'?

'Test, Trace, Protect' is the Welsh Government's strategy to help control the spread of coronavirus.

Today sees the roll-out of 'Trace' - the contact tracing element of the strategy - described as a "significant step forward" in the gradual move out of lockdown.

The Welsh Government says: "As lockdown restrictions are eased, we must find a way for people in Wales to live and work alongside the virus, whilst containing its spread. Each and every one of us will need to take steps to protect ourselves, our families and our communities, if we are to successfully limit the spread of the disease. To save lives, all of us must Test, Trace and Protect."

  • How does it work?

The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will work by:

  • Testing people who have symptoms of coronavirus and asking them to self-isolate whilst taking the test and waiting for a result

  • Tracing those who have been in close contact with a person who tests positive

  • Providing advice and guidance, particularly if the person with coronavirus or their contacts are deemed vulnerable

  • What is contact tracing?

If you test positive for coronavirus, you will be contacted by a contact tracer on behalf of the Test, Trace, Protect service. They are looking to establish who you have recently been in close proximity with, in order to ask those people to self-isolate to help limit the spread of the virus.

Contact tracing is ultimately designed to help stop the spread of the virus, so that fewer people fall ill or die.

It can also help inform how quickly the virus is spreading in Wales, and where there are hotspots of infection.

The Welsh Government says it is "not about enforcement or surveillance, and is in the interests of protecting people’s health."

A Covid-19 antibody testing kit on the factory line at a laboratory in Pencoed. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA
  • I am experiencing coronavirus symptoms. How do I apply for a test?

Before requesting a test, you must have at least one of the following symptoms:

  • A new, continuous cough

  • A high temperature

  • Loss of - or change to - sense of smell or taste

Everyone in Wales with symptoms can apply for an antigen (swab) test, either at home or via a drive-through testing centre, although there is high demand.

Members of the public can book a test online via the NHS website.

Essential workers can request a test online via the UK Government website.

You can also apply for a test by telephone. Full details are available on the Welsh Government website.

The antigen (swab) test is only for people with coronavirus symptoms and it needs to be taken in the first five days of having symptoms. It only checks if you currently have coronavirus and not if you have already had the virus.

  • What happens if I test positive for coronavirus?

If you test positive, you will be contacted by a contact tracer and asked to provide details of people who you have recently been in contact with.

This means anyone you have been in close proximity with - even if you do not live with them - including:

  • Someone within one metre of you, with whom you have had a face-to-face-conversation, had skin-to-skin physical contact, you have coughed on, or been in other forms of contact within one metre or one minute or longer

  • Someone within two metres of you for more than 15 minutes

  • Someone you have travelled in a vehicle with, or sat near on public transport

Each of these people will be contacted by contact tracers and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

  • Why is contact tracing done only for those who test positive for coronavirus - and not for everyone with symptoms?

Contact tracing on the basis of a positive result is already an intensive process.

If contact tracing was operated on the basis of symptoms, research suggests potentially millions of contacts per month would need to be followed up. This could require a significant proportion of the population self-isolating as a precautionary measure.

Contact tracing on symptoms alone could be introduced if the evidence, resources and experience support it - but this is not currently the case.

People with symptoms can order a home testing kit or book a slot at a drive-through testing centre. Credit: PA
  • What information will I be asked to provide to contact tracers?

You will be asked about the coronavirus symptoms you have been experiencing.

You will also be asked for the names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers (including mobiles) and email addresses of anyone you have been in contact with during the time you have had symptoms - if you know this information.

In addition, you will be asked if anyone you have been in contact with is under 18 or lives outside of Wales.

  • Do I have to provide this information?

This is a voluntary process and you can decline to provide this information, but people are strongly encouraged to help.

The Welsh Government says: "Everyone has a role to play in our national effort to respond to coronavirus. If people don’t help and work together, they put themselves, their families and other people, particularly those most vulnerable, at risk of contracting coronavirus. They would also be helping to spread the disease and contributing to prolonging the pandemic."

  • Will the contact tracers reveal my identity to my close contacts?

Your identity will not be revealed unless you have given your permission.

  • How do I know the information I provide will be kept safe?

The Welsh Government says the data you provide will be handled in the same way as other health data in Wales.

  • How long will we have to do this for?

The Welsh Government says contact tracing will need to be in place until a vaccine is developed, which may be at least 12 months away.

  • Who is overseeing contact tracing?

Health boards and local authorities are working together to deliver contact tracing.

The system has been trialled in four health board areas over the last two weeks, and more than 600 contact tracers have so far been employed. This number is likely to rise as the system is rolled out.

Contact tracers will be getting in touch with anyone who tests positive for coronavirus. Credit: Lewis Stickley/PA
  • Can I provide this information online?

From next Monday, 8th June, contact tracing will be supported by a new online system, which will give people the option to provide details of their close contacts electronically.

In addition, the UK-wide NHS X Covid-19 app will soon be available. The app will let you know if you have been near someone who has coronavirus symptoms, link you to up-to-date guidance on coronavirus that is relevant to your situation, and allow you apply for a test if you have symptoms of coronavirus.

  • How do we know contact tracing works?

Contact tracing is an intensive but tried-and-tested method of bringing outbreaks of infectious diseases under control. It has proven to be effective in other countries.

But it is a voluntary process, and will only be successful if members of the public get behind it by reporting their symptoms, identifying their contacts and following advice about self-isolating. The Welsh Government has asked for everyone's support to help make it work.

  • If a contact tracer gets in touch with me, how do I know they are genuine?

You will only be contacted by a contact tracer after you have had a positive coronavirus test.

You will not be asked for any financial information, bank details, passwords or any other data that is not part of the contact tracing process. If you have any doubts then you should not continue with the call.

More information about this can be found on the Welsh Government's website.

  • What if I miss the phone call?

If you receive a telephone call from the contact tracer and you miss the call, the number used will begin with 02920. It will be traceable back to the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service via a recorded message for those who dial the number back.

  • What if I am under 18?

Under-18s will receive a phone call from a contact tracer, and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue.

  • Do other parts of the UK have a similar test-and-trace system?

Yes - England, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own versions of the test-and-trace programme.

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