We have seen a lot on the news over the past few weeks about the new NHS Test and Trace scheme. Test and trace is a plan instigated by the UK government to track Covid-19 cases.

In the first week of launching, 31,000 people were identified as having come into close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus. These people were consequently asked to self-isolate to help break the chain of transmission.

This test and trace scheme has widely been considered the best way to stop the spread of Covid-19, with many countries implementing similar plans. This week, we spoke with Carole Hallam, Independent Nurse Consultant in Infection Prevention to help understand how it works in practice, and what happens if you are contacted by  NHS Test and Trace.

What is NHS Test and Trace?

Test and trace is a service that helps to identify people who are carrying the Coronavirus and contact those they have been in contact with, who may consequently be incubating the infection. This is an important step in the UK, as we begin to release lockdown and move forward with our control of Covid-19.

The reason that test and trace is so important is that it helps to prevent any further spread of infection. We have heard this referred to a lot as the R number. R stands for the “effective reproduction number” of any disease and how quickly it spreads. This number denotes the number of people that those infected with the disease will go on to infect. If the R of a disease is one, then on average every person infected with the disease will go on to infect one more person, at this point the disease will be much easier to manage.

Track and Trace contact service

Track and Trace contact

How does Test and Trace work?

The key to the success of the scheme, is being very aware of what the symptoms of Covid-19 are. We have all heard a lot about these symptoms since the start of the outbreak, but just to be clear, they are:

  • A high temperature - You do not need a thermometer to decipher this, you just need to know that the skin on the back of your neck or your chest is feeling particularly hot.
  • A new continuous cough - This means coughing a lot for more than an hour. In cases where people already have a chronic cough, particularly smokers, you will generally see a worsening of the cough.
  • Change in taste or smell or the absence of taste or smell.
  • Other symptoms - These include aching muscles, joints, fatigue, sore throat and headache, which are all symptoms that can be associated with a high temperature.

If you have any of these symptoms, it is crucial that you self-isolate straight away for at least 7 days, as this is the period of infectivity.

Anyone else in your household needs to isolate for 14 days from the first day that you started showing symptoms, as that is the period of incubation.

Once self-isolating, it is important that you order a Covid-19 test as soon as possible. These tests can be done at a drive-in center local to your house or sent out to you through the post. 

If you do test positive, you will be contacted and asked to share the contact details of people who you have had close contact within recent days, as well as listing the places that you have recently visited. It is important that you respond quickly when asked, so that appropriate advice can be given to those who need it.

In the past few weeks, many people have raised concerns that it is not possible to remember everyone you have come into close contact with, especially if you visited a shop or passed someone in the street. In these cases, it is important not to worry. To pass on the infection you must inhale the droplets of Covid-19 into your nose and mouth, or touch your face with contaminated hands. This is very unlikely to happen when passing someone in the street or at a shop.

Swab test for Covid-19

Swab test for Covid-19

What happens if you are contacted by test and trace?

Hopefully it won’t happen, but if you are called to say that you have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed as positive with Covid-19, it is important to not panic.

You will receive an alert by text, call, or email to say you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. You should then log on to the NHS test and trace website to speak with a professional, who will advise you on the next steps to take.

You will be asked to isolate for 14 days, even if you do not develop symptoms during this time. This is crucial to stop any further spread of the virus.


No symptoms

If you do not become symptomatic within these 14 days, your family members do not need to isolate with you although, if possible, during this period it is sensible to isolate yourself from your household contacts. If you have a spare bedroom, and can distance yourself in the kitchen and bathroom, that is sensible.

If you live in a small house or flat and cannot distance yourself, the most important thing to do is take extra care with good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene. In a home setting it is also important to keep your surfaces clean. You do not need any fancy household cleaners as this is a virus that is killed off on surfaces very easily, so most household cleaners will suffice.



If you do develop symptoms within this time, it is important that you stay at home and stay isolated for an additional 7 days. Your household contacts must also self-isolate with you for 14 days. Once self-isolated, you should book a Coronavirus test through the NHS website to find out if you are positive for Covid-19.

If you feel particularly unwell and you need to see a doctor, do not go straight to the GP.  Ring 111, or contact the service online, they will ask you questions about your main symptoms and will then send you to appropriate person to get help. This helps ensure that the facility treating you has the right precautions in place, without putting other immunocompromised patients at risk of infection.

The hope is that the NHS Test and Trace scheme will facilitate the end of our nationwide lockdown, replacing it with individual isolations. To ensure that the spread of infection is minimised as quickly as possible, it is crucial that you carefully follow the procedure laid out,


For more information on the NHS Test and Trace scheme, visit the Gov.uk website


You can watch the full interview with our expert here:


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