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Explains how the contact tracing system works if you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

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First published:
15 June 2020
Last updated:


People who are at the highest risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 are the persons who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

COVID-19 can make anyone seriously unwell but for some people the risk is higher. For most of these people, this risk is significantly reduced by vaccination. People who are known to be at higher risk from COVID-19 include:

You will not always know whether someone you come into contact with outside your home is at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell. They could be strangers (for example people you sit next to on public transport) or people you may have regular contact with (for example friends and work colleagues). This means it is important to follow the advice to keep others safe.

A close contact is anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:

  • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a conversation within 1 metre
  • skin-to-skin physical contact for any length of time
  • contact within 1 metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
  • contact within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (as a one-off contact, or added up together over 1 day)
  • travelled in the same vehicle or a plane

Contact tracers gather information from positive cases to identify close contacts in order to provide them with advice and guidance on what to do.

What you should do if you are identified as a close contact

If you are notified that you have been identified as a close contact by NHS Test, Trace Protect via email or text, or by someone who has tested positive directly, you do not need to self-isolate but should be vigilant for the main COVID-19 symptoms and:

  • pay close attention to the main symptoms of COVID-19. If you develop any of these symptoms, order a LFT test. You are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people while you are waiting for your test result
  • minimise contact with the person who has COVID-19
  • work from home if you are able to do so
  • avoid contact with anyone you know who is at higher risk of becoming severely unwell if they are infected with COVID-19, especially those with a severely weakened immune system
  • limit close contact with other people outside your household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • wear a well-fitting face covering made with multiple layers in indoor crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and where you are in close contact with other people
  • wash your hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes

You should follow this advice for 10 days after being in contact with the person who tested positive.

Visiting vulnerable people

If you have been identified as a contact, to reduce the chance of passing COVID-19 on to others, after following the guidance for close contacts if you are visiting vulnerable people in places such as care homes or hospitals, you should follow the relevant visitor guidance.

Shared parental responsibility

Try to avoid moving a child with COVID-19 symptoms or who has tested positive, between households. This may increase the spread of the virus.

If possible the child should stay with one household during the self-isolation period. If this is not possible, the child should continue to self-isolate for 5 full days as described above. Close contacts in both households should follow the guidance above.

Anyone who has had contact with the child within 5 days of the onset of symptoms or positive test result should follow the guidance above.

Children under the age of 5

Children under 5 do not need to take a test, even if they have COVID-19 symptoms. They can take a test if a doctor advises it, or if a parent believes a test is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of a child.

If they have symptoms, they do not need to self isolate. They should stay home until they are well enough to return to school or childcare setting.

If a child takes a test and it is positive, they must self-isolate for at least 5 full days. The child and contacts need to follow the self-isolation guidance.

Health and social care staff and those who work in special educational provision

If you work in health and social care or a special educational provision, you should:

Your employer may ask you to take tests as a precaution or be redeployed to a role where you are not facing individuals who have higher clinical risks. You may also be instructed not to attend work.