Test and Trace changes 15-minute ‘close contact’ rule

The Test and Trace scheme in England has revised one of its definitions of a "close contact" – the people who need to be reached if they have been near to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

The definition now refers to a close contact as anyone who has been within two metres of someone for more than 15 minutes, whether in a single period or cumulatively over the course of one day.

Previously the definition was just a single period of at least 15 minutes.

Many more people are likely to be notified to self-isolate with the rule change.

In September, England and Wales launched a contact tracing app – the NHS Covid-19 app – to stem the tide of the second coronavirus wave.

The app, downloaded by millions of people in the UK is designed to let people know if they have been in contact with someone who later tests positive for Covid-19.

How does it work?

NHS contact tracing app – What is it and how does it work?

Users can record details of their symptoms on the app on their phone if they start to feel unwell. It keeps a trace of others who have been in close contact through the phones’ Bluetooth signals.

These perform an anonymous digital "handshake" when two users are within around two metres from each other for up to 15 minutes. This has today been changed.

The app does not need to connect to mobile data to function. 

If an individual later reports that they are positive for coronavirus, the app will alert people who have been in close-contact with them in the last 28 days based. 

The app will ask those people to self-isolate and they are legally required to do so.  The new system also takes into account how infectious a person who tests positive was at the moment of contact, judged by closeness in time to the onset of symptoms.

How contact tracing works

What happens if I come into contact with someone who has Covid-19? 

You may be instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, which is a legal requirement.  This will be from the day you were last in contact with the person who tested positive.

People are advised to order food or medicine online or by phone, or through friends and family.

NHS contact tracing app – What is the technology behind it?

What if I don’t self-isolate?

If you do not self-isolate, you may be fined £1,000, increasing up to £10,000 for repeat offenders.

Employers who force or allow staff to go to work when they should be self-isolating will be liable for fines of up to £10,000.

The Government said they will use police resources to check compliance in highest incidence areas and in high-risk groups.

How do I download the app?

You can download the app on a smartphone but not on tablets or smart watches. Simply search for "NHS Covid-19" on Google Play or the App Store.

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