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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 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 the public and professionals get back to their normal daily lives.

A new Test, Trace, Protect strategy, which sets out the next phase of our approach to tackling coronavirus has now been published. This 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.

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 are now able to order a home testing kit or book a slot at their nearest mass drive-through testing centre via the UK-wide booking system. This represents an important step in our plans to scale up testing as part of our new Test, Trace, Protect strategy.

Availability of home testing kits are managed at a UK level, whereas slots at the mass drive-through testing centres are managed through the Local Health Boards and Public Health Wales.

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

The scale of testing capacity needed in Wales to support this approach is unprecedented.  We have significantly expanded our testing capacity with laboratory capacity currently available to process more than 9,277 tests a day (figure dated 29 May), and with testing centres now open around Wales. 

We will continue to increase this capacity over the coming weeks and months, enabling us to test more people staying in hospitals and care settings and those working in these sectors and in other critical services.

As we now move to mass population testing to support contact tracing, we are drawing on the supply of UK home testing kits, whilst ensuring that testing data is retained in Wales.

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. Policy outlining how this type of test will be used in Wales will be published shortly.

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. We used contact tracing during the initial ‘contain’ phase of our response to coronavirus. Contact tracing is now an essential part of our Test, Trace, Protect strategy. From 1 June 2020, contact tracing will be established across Wales, and will need to be maintained at a significant level, potentially for the next year or 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 will be asked to share details of contacts you may or may not live with, and with whom you have been in close proximity on any occasion during a period beginning up to 2 days before you started experiencing symptoms, including:

  • someone within 1 metre of you with whom you have had a face-to-face-conversation, had skin-to-skin physical contact, you have coughed on, or had other forms of contact within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer
  • someone within 2 metres of you for more than 15 minutes
  • someone you have travelled in a vehicle with - or seated near you in public transport

This information will help the contact tracing teams to identify how quickly the virus is spreading and whether there are hotspots of infection. This is not about enforcement or surveillance and is in the interests of protecting your health and the health of your contacts. These contacts will be asked to self-isolate for 14 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 can generate false negatives and is not recommended for these reasons.

As we slowly come out of lockdown, only by acting quickly to identify cases of coronavirus and isolating those who may have been infected can we stop the chain of infection and avoid a second peak.

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.

If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home or if your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after 7 days, use the 111 online coronavirus service. If you do not have internet access, call 111.

In a medical emergency, dial 999.

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. 

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