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Who and how people will be tested for coronavirus.

First published:
5 April 2020
Last updated:

Does Wales have a plan for testing?

The Test, Trace, Protect strategy was published on 13 May  that covers our approach to testing people with symptoms in the community, tracing those they have come into close contact with, who may be at risk of having the virus, and protecting family, friends and our community by self-isolating.

A new Testing strategy was published on 15 July, which sets out how testing will work alongside the easing of lock down measures to ensure that we can keep the number of daily cases low, but also sets out how we will continue to build capacity for the possibility of a second wave until an effective vaccine with long-term protective efficacy becomes available and widely used.

Previous plans include:

  • The Chief Medical Officer for Wales introduced guidance for coronavirus testing in Wales on 18 March, which set out who should be tested. An updated policy, which extended testing to all critical workers was published on 18 April.
  • A national testing plan for Wales was published on 7 April and outlined two main aims – to reduce the harm caused by coronavirus and to help everyone get back to their normal daily lives.

Does the Test, Trace, Protect strategy differ from other UK approaches?

Coronavirus will be with us until an effective vaccine is available or there is sufficient acquired immunity among the population. Research is ongoing in Wales to explore new treatments for the virus and the first vaccine trials have started in the UK.

We have, and we will continue, to base our approach on the best available scientific evidence, health surveillance and international learning. Contact tracing is a long-established public health approach to containing the spread of infectious diseases and has proven to be effective in other countries.

In Wales, we have a robust, national public health system, which puts us in a strong position as we move to the next phase of the virus and as we begin the gradual and cautious process of easing the lockdown restrictions. Our aim is to maintain a UK-wide approach.

How will the Test, Trace, Protect strategy work?

Test, Trace, Protect will work by:

How will the strategy be delivered?

Test, Trace, Protect will be delivered through the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service which includes a number of partners working together to help contain the spread of the virus from Public Health Wales, to the local Health Boards and Local Authorities in Wales, NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) and others. To ensure effective delivery, these partners will be responsible for implementing one of the biggest public health interventions in a generation.

The public will be our most important partners. It is only through their willingness to report their symptoms, identify their contacts and follow advice about self-isolating that we will be able to identify new cases and hotspots of coronavirus and prevent a new peak in cases occurring.

What role does testing play in the Test, Trace, Protect strategy?

Testing for coronavirus has a number of purposes, it is vital for:

  • Diagnosing the virus to help with treatment and care.
  • Population health surveillance, so we understand the spread of the disease and can identify clusters and hot spots.
  • Contact tracing, to control the spread of the virus.
  • Business continuity, enabling critical workers to return to work more quickly and safely
  • Knowing who has had the infection in the past, when antibody testing is available.

This means testing of symptomatic people will now be expanded beyond people in hospital, residents in care homes, and critical workers, to include the general public. This will either be through self-referral or being identified through contact tracing.

How do I book a test?

How will we scale up the approach to testing?

We have an extensive network of testing facilities across Wales

Members of the public and critical workers in Wales can book at test by calling 119 or online via the UK-wide booking system. This is an important part of our Test, Trace, Protect strategy.

Our absolute focus is on making sure those who need a test can get one, to stop the spread of the virus. Everyone taking a test when they should will help ensure that the safety and protection of the most vulnerable to this virus such as those in hospitals or care homes, and those providing essential frontline services, remain at the heart of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our testing policy is being kept under ongoing review.

How will we ensure there is sufficient capacity for testing in Wales?

The scale of testing capacity needed in Wales is unprecedented. We have significantly expanded our testing capacity with testing centres now open across Wales. 

We continue to increase this capacity, enabling us to test more people staying in hospitals and care settings and those working in these sectors and in other critical services. The number of tests we will need in Wales will depend on the spread of the disease, the prevalence of symptoms and the emerging evidence on how testing can best be used to prevent infection. We will continue to keep this evidence under review.

How do you test for coronavirus?

Because infected people may have anything from mild respiratory symptoms to severe pneumonia, the only way to confirm someone has coronavirus is to test them.

There is currently one type of test in regular use – the antigen (swab) test which is used to test whether someone with symptoms has coronavirus. The antigen test looks for the presence of the genetic signature of the virus, with the test performed in a laboratory.

The type of test processed through Welsh laboratories involves a ‘single dry swab’ taken from the back of the throat. The type of test processed through English laboratories involves ‘two wet swab’ sample collections taken from the nose and throat.

Another type of test is now available – this is the antibody test. This tests a blood sample to see whether someone has been exposed to coronavirus infection and has developed antibodies – has some immunity to the virus.

Where can I get the latest data about tests?

Public Health Wales launched an interactive dashboard with the latest data relating to coronavirus in Wales.

Weekly updates are also published on the number and results of coronavirus tests, who was tested and where they were tested.

What is contact tracing and how will this work?

Contact tracing is a tried and tested method of controlling the spread of infectious diseases. It will also help us understand how the disease is passing from person to person. Contact tracing was established across Wales from 1 June 2020, and will need to be maintained at a significant level until a vaccine is found.

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you should take a coronavirus test within the first five days of developing symptoms – this is when the test is most effective. If you test positive you are required to share details of people (including those you live with) you have been close to up to 2 days before your symptoms started, including:

  • someone you have had face-to face contact with at a distance of less than  1 metre – this could be someone that you’ve had a face-to-face-conversation with, had skin-to-skin physical contact with, you have coughed on, or had some other form of contact with within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer
  • someone who has been within 2 metres of you for more than 15 minutes
  • someone you have travelled in a car or other small vehicle with – or someone who has been seated near you on public transport, such as a train or an aeroplane

This information will help the contact tracing teams to identify how quickly the virus is spreading and whether there are hotspots of infection. It’s an offence to give false information to TTP about persons you have been in contact with, including where this is done to either fraudulently claim support payments or to maliciously require a person to self-isolate. This is in the interests of protecting your health and the health of your contacts. The details of the information you share will not be passed onto your contacts. These contacts will be informed that they must self-isolate for 10 days to ensure that they do not have the virus. They will only be advised to take a test if they are displaying symptoms - testing while asymptomatic (someone without symptoms) can generate false negatives and is not recommended for these reasons.

As we live alongside the virus, only by acting quickly to identify cases of coronavirus and isolating those who may have been infected can we stop the chain of infection.

Contact tracing is undertaken by NHS organisations and local authorities working together. Health Boards provide local co-ordination and work in partnership with local authorities and other public services to deploy contact tracing teams who understand the local area.

What role can I play to protect myself, my family, friends and community?

Testing and contact tracing is not an end in itself. We will need people to continue to play their part and follow the latest public health guidance.

The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of one or more of the following:

  • new continuous cough
  • high temperature
  • loss of or change to sense of smell or taste

If you develop one of these symptoms, you should immediately self-isolate and follow the self-isolation guidance.

You should also apply for a test. The test is only effective for those who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms and needs to be taken in the first 5 days of having symptoms. It only checks if you have coronavirus right now and not if you have already had the virus.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms are usually mild, but some people can become very unwell. It is important that you do not try to cope for too long on your own before seeking medical assistance. You should contact the 111 online coronavirus service or your GP if:

  • your symptoms don’t improve after 7 days, or
  • you experience breathlessness or vomiting at any time, or
  • fatigue stops you doing your normal daily activities
  • a baby or a child under 5 has a temperature at any time.

If you do not have internet access, call 111. In a medical emergency, dial 999 and inform the call handler or operator that you or your relative have COVID-19 symptoms.

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.