By acting collectively to test and trace, we will keep Covid cornered

It has been a real thrill to see so many of the experiences that brighten our lives returning to the UK over the past few weeks.

First shops, then pubs, haircuts and restaurants, and now we’ve been able to announce that gyms, swimming pools, sports facilities and outdoor theatres will soon be able to open.

This careful restoration of our national life has only been possible due to our shared success in slowing the spread of this virus. We protected the NHS in the peak.

And now we can take more targeted local action and less national lockdown, to restore the freedom of the majority while controlling the virus wherever we can find it.

That’s only possible because of the growing capability of NHS Test and Trace.

This service is our radar, helping us to understand how this virus is spreading, so we can hunt down coronavirus and keep it contained.

Since it launched just over a month ago, it has already reached 144,000 people, who now know they must self isolate, but otherwise wouldn’t have known and risked spreading the virus to their loved ones and local communities.

Sailors from Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales staffing a Covid-19 Mobile Testing Unit in Eastleigh, Hampshire


Sailors from Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales staffing a Covid-19 Mobile Testing Unit in Eastleigh, Hampshire


Credit: PA

The bedrock has been the clarity and certainty offered by high quality testing. We now have the testing capacity to carry out over 300,000 tests a day – both antigen tests that tell you if you have the virus and antibody tests that tell you if you have had the virus. We’re using this capacity – bigger than anywhere else in Europe – to hunt down the virus.

First, anyone with suspected coronavirus symptoms must get a test. It is so important not just for you but for your family, community, and country. It’s easy and completely free, you can get a test by going on nhs.uk or calling 119. We have over 250 testing centres and are deploying a dozen walk-in testing centres in town centres across the country. And thanks to the work that’s been done on speeding it up, we can pretty much guarantee that if you get tested in person at one of our sites you’ll get your result the next day.

The message is simple: if in doubt, get a test.

Next, we are testing anyone at high risk: where we find a cluster or outbreak, we send in extra testing, including mobile testing units that can be deployed anywhere in the country.

We also know that some jobs are higher risk. So we are regularly testing people In high risks settings, including NHS and care homes of course, but also now asymptomatic people who work in high-contact professions, like taxi drivers, cleaners and sales assistants, as well as vulnerable groups identified by local authorities.

We’re doing this with employers too, like Addison Lee, BT and Mitie. Each business will receive up to 8,500 tests via home test delivery or by deploying a mobile testing unit, while local authorities will use capacity at their local walk-in test sites.

A shopper walks past an advertisment for the UK government's NHS Test and Trace system in Regent Street in London


A shopper walks past an advertisment for the UK government’s NHS Test and Trace system in Regent Street in London


Credit: AFP

The results will help us find cases, protect their friends and family and also help us learn about the prevalence of the virus in these groups.

When we started NHS Test and Trace, we started by isolating the contacts of people who tested positive. This will always be at the core of its work. But the most important task for NHS test and trace is to find as many of the cases as possible. That’s why it’s so important that anyone who might possibly think they have symptoms get a test as soon as they feel ill.

Each positive case we find is a thread that we trace to find more positive cases. It’s painstaking detective work.

But the figures show it’s working. The vast majority of people are engaging with NHS Test and Trace, isolating when asked and providing their contacts quickly.

And crucially, we are finding more and more cases through testing.

The result is we can lift more of the lockdown, and take targeted action. Each week there are over a hundred local actions taken across the country – some of these will make the news, but many more are swiftly and silently dealt with. This is thanks in large part of the incredible efforts of local authorities – all of whom have stepped up and published their local outbreak control plans in line with the end of June deadline.

NHS Test and Trace is a service for the whole country and we will beat the virus with local action targeted to the needs of our local communities.  

Together, we are increasingly finding this virus and stopping its spread. There is much more to do. And everyone can play their part in helping keeping Covid cornered.  

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