Coronavirus: How does the NHS test-and-trace system and app work?

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Concerns have been raised about the number of people self-isolating after being "pinged" by the NHS Covid app.

More than 600,000 people in England and Wales received an alert in the week to 14 July.

Why are so many people being 'pinged'?

The number of alerts has risen because of a surge in Covid infections.

In the second week of July, 618,903 alerts were sent to people in England and Wales - up 17% on the previous week.

It's feared many users are deleting the app, to avoid self-isolating.

Which jobs are affected?

Many businesses have staff and supply issues:

  • A shortage of lorry drivers has led to delays supplying goods
  • Iceland said 1,000 staff are self-isolating
  • BP has closed a "handful" of petrol stations
  • Food distribution company Bidfood is asking "pinged" workers to return after taking a negative test
  • Some council bin collections have been affected
  • Dorset Police warn of call waiting times increasing
  • The British Meat Processors Association said 10% of some companies' workers have been "pinged"

In England, employers providing critical services can now request an exemption for named employees who are fully vaccinated. Sectors include energy and emergency services.

Supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from quarantine rules whatever their vaccination status.

Do I have to self-isolate if I'm pinged?

People in England and Wales can download the NHS Covid app.

If you spend enough time close to another person using it, you will receive a "ping" alert if they test positive for Covid. You need to be 2m (6ft) from them for 15 minutes to trigger a message.

If you are "pinged" you're advised - but not legally obliged - to self-isolate until 10 days have passed since your contact with them.

Business minister Paul Scully said people who are "pinged" can make an "informed decision" about whether to isolate. But Downing Street said it is "crucial" to self-isolate when sent an alert.

Northern Ireland and Scotland have separate apps.

What else does Test and Trace do?

When people test positive for coronavirus, they are asked to provide details of close contacts.

These include:

  • people they've spent at least 15 minutes with, at a distance of less than 2m (6ft)
  • sexual partners, people they live with or have had face-to-face conversations with, at a distance of less than 1m (3ft)

These contacts are then approached by text, email or phone

If you are contacted in this way, you must self-isolate at home for 10 days from your last point of contact with the person.

Refusing to do so is illegal in England, with fines starting at £1,000.

Other people in your household don't have to self-isolate unless you or they develop symptoms.

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How are the rules changing in England?

From 16 August, people who've had both jabs in England will no longer have to self-isolate after close contact with someone who tests positive.

From the same date, under-18s also won't have to isolate after contact with a positive case - to prevent entire classes or year groups having to self-isolate.

If contacted by NHS Test and Trace they will be advised to take one PCR test as soon as possible. As long as that is negative, and they don't develop symptoms, they won't need to take further action.

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Similar changes are due in Scotland on 9 August. Wales will do the same on 7 August, although the rule for under-18s is not yet confirmed. Ministers in Northern Ireland are expected to discuss changes on 12 August.

Anyone who tests positive or develops symptoms will still need to self-isolate, regardless of vaccination status or age.

What are the rules around the UK?

Each UK nation has its own contact-tracing service, but the rules are similar:

Will I be paid if I'm told I have to self-isolate?

A £500 grant is available in England to people on low incomes who have to self-isolate. This includes parents who can't work because their child has to self-isolate. However, many applications have been turned down.

In Scotland people can apply for the Self-Isolation Support Grant, worth £500, and there is a similar scheme in Wales. In Northern Ireland a discretionary payment is available.

You may also be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, which is worth £96.35 a week, or more if your employer has a sick pay scheme.