It should help to ease lockdown restrictions, but how will the system work?
The coronavirus contact tracing system launches in England today, Thursday 28th May.
The government has taken on 25,000 contact tracers to track down anyone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. They will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days from the time of their contact with an infected person.
There’s no legal enforcement of the self-isolation requirement, but it is being described as a ‘civic duty’.
The track and trace system will open the way for a relaxation of the national lockdown, though it carries the possibility of local or even hyper-local actions if there are any outbreak hotspots.
The track and trace system in England operates through a NHS Test and Trace website. People who test positive for coronavirus will be contacted by text, email or telephone and asked to log on to the website, where they’ll be asked to complete details of people with whom they’ve been in close contact. Under-18s will have to have their parent or guardian give permission.
It’s claimed that the system can track down the contacts of 10,000 people per day.
Northern Ireland has its own version of contact tracing already in operation, and Scotland has a roughly similar system called Test and Protect. Wales also has its own system, due to start in early June.
Still in development is a contact tracing app which will use Bluetooth to identify potential infectious contacts by location rather than name, but this depends on people downloading the app to their mobile phones. It was originally supposed to be ready in May, but is now expected to be available free in the next few weeks. A successful trial has taken place on the Isle of Wight, where around half of the island’s 140,000 inhabitants downloaded the app.
In other parts of the world such as South Korea, track and trace technology has been more widely implemented, as far as tracking credit card transactions and CCTV footage.