05 May 2020

How will the army of 18,000 contact tracers help contain Covid-19?

05 May 2020

A “test, track and trace” programme is considered a route to easing current lockdown measures while still containing the spread of Covid-19.

A team of contact tracers are part of this strategy – but how are they being recruited and what will their role be?

– What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing aims to reduce transmission by identifying and alerting people who may have been exposed to the virus, so that they can protect themselves and others around them.

The Government is pursuing a two-pronged approach – an app which tracks contact between users and a team of manual contact tracers.

– Who is being recruited as a contact tracer?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 18,000 people are now being recruited to help with contact tracing.

Of those, some 3,000 are qualified public health and clinical professionals, and the remaining 15,000 are call handlers.

It is understood that discussions are under way about call handlers being outsourced to private operators, including Serco.

Call handlers will be provided with scripts by Public Health England (PHE) to handle more straightforward cases, while the team of clinicians will be on hand for more complex conversations.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

It is not known how many contact tracers have been recruited so far, but Mr Hancock said this number is an “initial goal” which is expected to be in place by the middle of May.

– What will the contact tracing team do?

Once someone has tested positive for Covid-19, telephone-based contact tracers will gather information about people they have been in contact with to identify those who might be at risk of infection.

People who have been exposed will be contacted and given advice on what to do if they become unwell or develop symptoms, PHE said.

Some could be asked to self-isolate if they are at a higher risk of infection, the agency added.

– Why was contact tracing halted earlier this year?

Health officials began contact tracing for every positive diagnosis of coronavirus following the first confirmed cases in January.

However, PHE advised ministers in early March that the policy should be stopped because the virus was “more widespread”.

A spokesman for PHE told the PA news agency in mid-March that because the agency would “not necessarily be able to determine where someone has contracted the virus”, contact tracing was being stopped in favour of a more “targeted approach”.

Resuming contact tracing on a larger scale is now being introduced as a way of easing current lockdown restrictions.

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