NHS Test and Trace system to launch across England
27 May 2020, 18:18 | Updated: 28 May 2020, 00:25
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has formally launched the NHS' coronavirus Test and Trace system, which will begin at 9am on Thursday.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus press briefing, Mr Hancock said: "This is an incredibly important milestone for the country."
The Health Secretary also explained that the first people who will be contacted will be the people who received a positive result on Wednesday.
"This is a very distinct change on our approach," he stated.
An army of 25,000 contact tracers have been recruited to get the system up and running.
Mr Hancock also used the press conference to explain how it will work.
"If you have coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate," he confirmed.
"Book a test on NHS site or dialling 119, and if it is positive, NHS test and trace will contact you and help you establish who is a recent contact that you may have infected.
"They will then contact relevant people and they should self-isolate for 14 days."
Recent contacts are defined as those who came within one metre of an infected person for 15 minutes or more.
Mr Hancock continued: “If you are told to self-isolate you must, it is your civic duty.
"This will be voluntary at first but we can quickly make in mandatory if that’s what it takes.”
This was supported by executive chairwoman of NHS Test and Trace Baroness Dido Harding, who said: "This individual and collective effort is vital if we're to keep the rate of infection down and carefully lift the lockdown."
Mr Hancock also said: “As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks.
“NHS Test and Trace will be vital to stopping the spread of the virus. It is how we will be able to protect our friends and family from infection, and protect our NHS.
“This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a target of getting coronavirus tests back within 24 hours but declined to say when it would be met, saying he had been “forbidden from announcing any more targets and deadlines”.
He did not rule out fines or punishment for those who refuse to comply.
He also said the system, which will monitor anyone who has come into close contact with those infected by coronavirus, “will change people’s lives”.
However, the NHS bluetooth contact tracing app that has been trialled on the Isle of Wight is still delayed by several weeks.
The aim of the Test and Trace scheme – which will run alongside calls to keep up social distancing and handwashing – is to cut off routes of transmission for coronavirus and prevent a second peak of infection.
As well as the two-metre rule, close contacts include anybody who has been in close contact with an infected person in the two days before symptoms appear and up to seven days afterwards.
As part of NHS Test and Trace, testing facilities may be rapidly deployed to particular locations if there is a spike in infections, after Boris Johnson confirmed schools and towns may have “localised lockdowns” if they have outbreaks.
Wales will launch its test and trace plan on Monday, the country's health minister has announced.
Vaughan Gething said the scale of the Welsh Government's contact tracing plan, which will help decide when lockdown measures are eased, was "unprecedented".