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Explains how contact tracing is being used to control the spread of coronavirus.

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First published:
1 June 2020
Last updated:

Introduction

Contact tracing is a tried and tested method of controlling the spread of infectious diseases. The aim is to protect your health and support the ongoing work to control the spread of coronavirus.

It’s an important part of our Test, Trace, Protect strategy and plays an important role alongside testing and the vaccine. It's supporting us to save lives and livelihoods during 2021 and the longer term. The strategy is being delivered through the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service. It includes a number of partners working together to help contain the spread of the virus.   

As soon as you start to display symptoms, you should arrange to take a PCR test whilst you, and members of your household, self-isolate. You should follow the self-isolation guidance.

Contact tracing provides up to date information across the whole of Wales on where the disease is and how fast it is spreading.

We all need to take steps to protect ourselves, our families and our communities if we are to limit the spread of the disease. Contact tracing plays an important role in helping us live with the virus.

Contact tracing: if you have tested positive 

If you’ve tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will contact you. Read further information on what you can expect.

Contact tracing: if you are identified as a close contact 

A close contact is anyone that a contact tracer considers may be at risk of infection or contamination with coronavirus due to contact with a positive case. The positive case may be someone you may or may not live with and with whom you have been in close proximity, including:

  • someone you have had face to face contact with at a distance of less than 1 metre, had skin-to-skin physical contact with, or that has coughed on you, or that you have had other forms of contact within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer
  • someone that you have spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of
  • someone that you have travelled in a car or other small vehicle with, or someone that has been in close proximity to you on public transport

Contact tracers gather information on a particular situation when identifying close contacts. They will consider any mitigating measures that have been put in place. These may include protective screens for example. Not all contacts, activities, or environments have an equal risk of transmission. Contacts who work in health and social care who have correctly worn specific medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will not be considered as a contact. There are also a small number of other professional roles, including first responders, emergency workers and immigration enforcement officers, who operate with specific medical PPE.

Wearing face coverings or visors are not PPE. They are not considered to be a mitigating factor in determining a contact. The decision on whether you will be determined to be a contact and asked to self-isolate will be assessed on a case by case basis. The contact tracer will advise them that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Read  further information on what you can expect if you’ve been identified as a close contact.

Backwards contact tracing for positive cases

If you have symptoms or have had a positive test result, but you are not aware of where you may have contracted COVID19, backwards contact tracing (BCT) plays a vital role in the effort to minimise and prevent the spread of COVID-19. BCT looks back in time, a further 12 days than the traditional 2 days before symptom onset or date of test. 

BCT is being used for settings or location based events where there is no known or identified possible source of infection and aims:

  • to identify possible source(s) of the infection of confirmed COVID-19 cases 
  • to identify further cases and contacts (including both locations and individuals)
  • to enhance the ability to detect clusters and outbreaks (including potential super-spreader events) of COVID-19 in community settings 
  • to support public health action
  • to add to surveillance / situation awareness of outbreaks and chains of transmission of COVID-19 in Wales

Contact tracers may ask you to share information from up to 14 days before developing symptoms or taking a test. This will help NHS Wales TTP identify potential places or people you may have caught the virus from. They might then be able to identify other, unknown people who may have caught the virus from them.

Contact tracers will then get in touch with those people who you have identified in the additional timeframes. Any people identified through BCT are not considered to be at risk of developing the infection from contact with the positive case. This is because the contact occurred outside of the positive case’s infectious period. However they may be possible sources of infection and they will be asked to take a test. They will not be asked to self-isolate. 

In these circumstances, people are advised to take a test to try to identify who the potential sources of COVID-19 are. If they go on to test positive, they'll be asked to self-isolate whilst contact tracing is undertaken. This is to prevent onwards spread of COVID-19.

Employment and self-isolation

You should tell your employer if you cannot work whilst self-isolating. You may be covered by their sick leave or special leave policy.

If you cannot get sick pay from your employer, you may be able to get Statutory Sick Pay or another type of financial support.

Find out more about Statutory Sick Pay, including eligibility and how to claim on GOV.UK.

Your employer should allow you to self-isolate and cannot require you to go back to work during the self-isolation period (see below). When you're self-isolating they should continue to communicate with you and provide support. This includes allowing you to work from home if you’re well enough and it’s practical to do so. This might include finding alternative work that you can do at home In no circumstances should you return to work during the self-isolation period.

Information for employers

Employers must play their part by making their workplaces as safe as possible. They can help by  ensuring that their employees self-isolate and by supporting them when in self-isolation. If any of your employees have been contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service to self-isolate on multiple occasions, then you should work with them to minimise the risk of exposure to or spread of coronavirus.  

Where contacts that have triggered these notifications are workplace contacts, you should consider what further mitigating actions could reduce the risk, such as using screens to separate people or creating fixed workgroups to reduce the number of people each person has contact with.

It is the responsibility of your employee to notify you if they have to self-isolate and are unable to work.  

Contacts will be provided with written confirmation that they must self-isolate which they can share with you.

Only employees who have not been fully vaccinated and who have had recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate.

If there are multiple cases of coronavirus in a workplace, an outbreak control team from either the local authority or Public Health Wales will help you as an employer to manage the outbreak. Employers should seek advice from their local authority in the first instance.

Employers should continue to communicate with workers in self-isolation and provide support. This includes allowing people to work from home if they are well and if it’s practical to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be done at home. 

In no circumstances should you permit someone to return to work during the self-isolation period. Employers by law have a duty to take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to and spread of coronavirus. Reasonable measures include enabling workers to self-isolate when required  because they have tested positive for Coronavirus, or are a close contact of someone who has tested positive.  

If as a result of an employer’s action, a person fails to self-isolate when required to do so, the employer may be guilty of an offence and could face a fine up to £10,000.

With recording sickness, it is recommended that self-isolation should not be recorded against an employee’s sickness record.  

If you are self-employed and your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, you may be eligible for a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (on GOV.UK).

It is important for employers to play their part by making workplaces as safe as possible and by following the guidance for employers, business and organisations.

NHS COVID-19 App

The NHS COVID-19 app is an important part of our Test, Trace, Protect programme to control the spread of COVID-19. The app is used, alongside traditional contact tracing, to notify people if they come into contact with someone who later tests positive for coronavirus.

The app allows people to report symptoms, order a coronavirus test, and check in to venues by scanning a QR code. 

The app helps the NHS understand if the virus is spreading in a particular area, and so local authorities can respond quickly to stop it spreading further.

The app does this while protecting a user’s anonymity. Nobody, including the government, will know who or where a particular user is.

The app is available for download from the Apple app store or Google Play.

Legal status of the App:

  • App users are not included in the legal duty to self-isolate if they receive an app close contact notification. This is because the app is an anonymous tool and the privacy of app users is protected. 
  • The app does not hold any information which could directly identify you. For example, your name, address, or date of birth.
  • The app cannot track your location, monitor whether you are self-isolating, access your personal identity or any other information on your phone.
  • On 7 August in Wales and on 16 August in England, self-isolation rules for close contacts will change and fully vaccinated people and under 18s will be exempt from self-isolation. The app will be updated to reflect these changes. App users identified as a contact will be asked a series of questions and told to self-isolate only if required.  
  • Self-isolation Support Scheme applications can still be made for eligible app users if you are required to self-isolate.

Support for self-isolation

If you have been asked to self-isolate and you cannot work from home, you may be entitled to financial support via the Self-isolation Support Scheme. Eligibility details are on the website and applications can be made via local authorities.

If you are not eligible for this scheme but you are at risk of financial hardship, your local authority may be able to provide advice about other financial support. 

Your local authority or County Voluntary Council will also be able to provide advice about other types of non-financial support. You may be eligible for a range of other financial support. For example you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re unable to work as a result of being contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service through coming into contact with someone who has coronavirus. 

We’re recommending to employers that self-isolation, as part of the contact tracing process, shouldn’t be recorded against your sickness record.

Legal requirement to Self-isolate if you’ve been contacted by NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect (TTP)

Everyone has a role to play in keeping Wales safe. If people don’t help and work together, they put themselves, their families and other people, particularly those most vulnerable, at risk of contracting coronavirus. 

The purpose of contact tracing is to protect the health of people in Wales and control the spread of the virus. 

You must self-isolate for 10 days if you’ve been told to self-isolate by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service. 

This is either because you have coronavirus, or you have been identified as being in contact with someone who has coronavirus and you might have caught it. The requirement to self- isolate as a close contact only applies if you haven’t been fully vaccinated or are over 18. 

If you have been identified as a contact, you are 18 or over and have not been fully vaccinated and live with others, only you will need to self-isolate. If you then start to show symptoms, you must start a new self-isolation period immediately and you will need to get a test. Everyone in your household must also start to self-isolate and follow the self-isolation guidance, unless they have an exemption as a close contact.

You should not:

  • go to work
  • go to school
  • go to the shops (even to buy food or essentials)
  • go to anyone else’s house
  • go to public places or places of worship
  • use public transport or taxis
  • go out to exercise

You are committing an offence if you do not stay at home and self-isolate following a notification from the TTP service that you need to self-isolate because 

  • you have tested positive for COVID-19, or 
  • you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and you are not fully-vaccinated.

Exceptions

There are some exceptional reasons when you can leave your home when you are self-isolating:

  • to seek medical assistance, where this is urgent or you are advised to do so by a medical professional
  • where you are at serious risk of harm, such as to avoid domestic abuse or sexual violence
  • to meet a legal obligation or participate in court proceedings, if this cannot be done remotely from home
  • for compassionate reasons, such as attending the funeral of a family member or close friend
  • to move house, if you have to because it is no longer possible for you to stay where you are living
  • to access veterinary services, if nobody else can transport the animal to and from those services
  • to access public services where access to the service is critical to the person’s well-being and the service cannot be provided if the person remains at the place where they are living
  • to get basic necessities, but only if nobody else can do this for you and you cannot get them delivered

However, although you are allowed to leave home for these very limited purposes, you should think carefully about whether you have an alternative to doing so.

If you are found to have left home for any other reason, or stayed away from home longer than strictly necessary to do one of these essential tasks, you will have committed a criminal offence. If a person should be self-isolating and isn’t, the police will explain what they need to do and encourage them to comply.

If they continue to not comply, then police forces exercise the legal powers available to them as necessary. They can issue fixed penalty notices to those aged 18 or over, starting at £60 and rising to £1920 where repeated over a number of occasions. In that case those people could face prosecution.

Scams: what to look out for

The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will only contact you if:

  • You’ve tested positive for coronavirus. When you ask for a test you’ll be asked for your contact details so that you’ll receive your result.
  • If you test positive, your details will be given to NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service so that they can contact you. They’ll then ask you to share information on your recent contacts.
  • You’re a confirmed contact of someone who has tested positive. NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect will contact you if the person who tested positive has passed on your contact details as part of the contact tracing process.

A contact tracer will contact you by phone. Calls will usually come from this number: 02921 961133.You will not be asked for any financial information, bank details, passwords or any other data other than information covered here. If you have any doubts then you should not provide the information.

A contact tracer will never:

  • ask you to dial a premium rate number to speak to them (for example, those starting 09 or 087)
  • ask you to make any form of payment or purchase a product or any kind
  • ask for any details about your bank account
  • ask for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts
  • ask you for any passwords or PINs, or ask you to set up any passwords or PINs over the phone
  • disclose any of your personal or medical information to your contacts
  • provide medical advice on the treatment of any potential COVID-19 symptoms
  • ask you to download any software to your PC or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet to anyone else
  • ask you to access any website that does not belong to the Welsh Government or NHS
  • if you think you have been sent a scam message, please report it to Action Fraud
  • if you receive an email which you are not quite sure about, you can forward it to the National Cyber Security Centre’s Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS) by e-mailing report@phishing.gov.uk
  • to report a spam text, forward the message to Ofcom’s spam texting service on 7726

Data protection

The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will securely handle your data in the same way as other health data in Wales. All data is sent by NHS Wales Digital Health and Care Wales (DHCW) to SAIL (the databank assisting the Government and NHS in tackling the pandemic). An overarching Wales Accord on the Sharing of Personal Information (WASPI) agreement has been made in respect of the introduction of the mass contact tracing arrangements in Wales.

Further information on the role of WASPI.