What We Know – And Still Don't Know – About The Coronavirus Test And Trace System

Many questions remain unanswered about the new NHS system unveiled by Boris Johnson.

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The long-awaited launch of the UK’s Test and Trace system, seen as key to easing the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, has gotten off to a rocky start.

The Department of Health and Social Care admitted “some staff initially encountered issues logging on to their systems”, while MPs said they were told the programme would not be operational at a local level until the end of next month.

These aren’t the only issues with the system so far. This is how it’s supposed to work...

PA Media

But there are more than a few questions yet to be fully answered...

Where’s the app?

The UK’s contact tracing app has been trialled on the Isle of Wight for several weeks but a national roll-out remains delayed.

It was supposed to be ready in mid-May but last week a Downing Street spokesperson said the app would be ready within the “coming weeks”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has played down the situation, saying human contact tracing measures need to be introduced first.

Speaking on Sky News, he said the app trial had found being contacted first by a human tracer was more effective at “getting people used to the idea” of being told they need to isolate for 14 days because they had been in contact with someone who has coronavirus.

How will it be enforced?

Initially the system will rely on people acting responsibly and following the guidance if they are told to isolate themselves, PA Media reports.

But if the system of voluntary compliance does not work, ministers will be able to bring in tougher measures which could see people potentially subjected to spot checks and fined if they are not following the rules.

What happens if I don’t have contact details for everyone I’ve been in contact with?

A valid question posed by a number of people on social media this morning.

At this stage there doesn’t appear to be an answer to this particular conundrum. The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not respond to request from HuffPost UK for clarification.

How many people need to abide by the system for it to be effective?

Again, this is not clear currently and DHSC did not provide an answer when asked.

What if I can’t afford to self-isolate?

Those self-isolating will be eligible for statutory sick pay but there are fears that many workers will not be able to afford to isolate and will be forced to keep working.

Statutory sick pay stands at £95.85 per week, and according to the government website you could get it if you cannot work and are self-isolating.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said this is not sufficient and the amount paid needed to rise in line with the Living Wage.

She said: “We need a testing and tracing programme up and running as soon as possible but it will not be effective if workers are pushed into hardship when they are required to self-isolate.

“Statutory sick pay is just £95 per week – and two million workers aren’t even eligible for that.

“The government must extend statutory sick pay to everyone – no matter what they’re paid – and raise it to the level of the real Living Wage, £260 per week.”

What if I’ve broken lockdown rules and mingled with people I should not have – should I tell the NHS when I reveal my contacts?

The call to NHS Test and Trace will be confidential and is aimed at ensuring that potential cases are tracked down, rather than finding out if people have flouted the social-distancing rules.

Is there anything else I need to know?

There is also one factor unrelated to how the system actually works that may have a detrimental effect – Dominic Cummings.

The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, has said the entire programme could be undermined by the government’s continued support for Boris Johnson’s most senior aide.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Ashworth said: “We need everybody to cooperate with this because it’s in all of our interests that this works, and I’m sorry, I’ve got to say it, it’s why I think Matt Hancock’s support of Dominic Cummings is really irresponsible.

“My worry is some people will think: ‘Why should I stay at home for two weeks on my own when I feel fine, while this guy who’s Boris Johnson’s big pal in Downing Street can get away with travelling across the country to Durham?’”

Then there is the timing, something Sky News’ Kay Burley brought up in a bizarre interview with Mat Hancock on Thursday morning.

Burley asked: “Be honest, you’ve rushed it forward because you want to take the headlines away from Dominic Cummings.

“It should have been the first of June when the app is being launched at the same time.”

To which Hancock... laughed.

He then managed to add: “It’s priceless Kay, I’m usually accused of delaying these things and bringing them in too slowly.”

Then he laughed some more.


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