What is the coronavirus test and trace system, and how will it work?

The end of a nationwide lockdown could be on the horizon, as the Health Secretary announced new plans to test and trace coronavirus cases.

The NHS Test and Trace service goes live on Thursday in England, with 25,000 contact tracing staff and the capacity to trace the 10,000 contacts per day.

Announcing the new service Matt Hancock 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.

“This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.”

The Government did not launch a contact tracing system until now because it needed to flatten the curve of infections first, Mr Hancock said, during Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing.

He added that because the number of infections grew so large a national lockdown was needed to get the virus under control.

But now, because the number of new infections are down and testing capacity has increased, tracing contacts of infected persons is possible.

The NHSX contact tracing app, currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, will also form part of the new Test and Trace strategy in the coming weeks.

But what is the new strategy and how will it work?

1. Self-isolate and test

From Thursday, anyone with symptoms including a persistent cough or temperature must self-isolate for at least seven days.

Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms, as studies have shown people can be asymptomatic for up to two weeks.

Mr Hancock said it is “your civic duty” to isolate and follow the rules of the Test and Trace strategy.

“This will be voluntary at first because we trust everyone to do the right thing, but we will make it mandatory if that’s what it takes,” Mr Hancock added. 

“If we don’t collectively make this work, the only way forward is to keep the lockdown. The more people who follow the instructions, the safer we can be and the faster we can lift the lockdown.”

If you are experiencing symptoms you must request a test as soon as possible via nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119. This will be available for residents in Wales from Saturday.

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