The government has launched its 'track and trace system' today as part of its plans to gradually reduce the lock down. Anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus must get tested and then self isolate for seven days. If the test is negative, they can return to work but if it's positive, the NHS Test and Trace team will get in touch via text, email or phone to find out the names of those people with whom they have been in close contact with. The government 'app' is not yet ready.
Close contacts are:
- People they've spent 15 minutes of more with at a distance of less than 2m.
- People they've had direct contact with such as members of their household or people they've had face to face conversations with at a distance of less than 1m.
Contact must have taken place between two days before and up to seven days after symptoms appeared so the success of this system depends on people obtaining a test and receiving their results quickly.
Anyone deemed to be at risk of catching the virus will be instructed to self isolate for 14 days but members of their family don't have to self isolate unless someone in the house actually develops symptoms.
The Statutory Sick Pay Regulations have also been amended so that, from today, anyone who is asked to self isolate by the Test and Trace team will be paid SSP at its current rate of £95.85.
The government has told UK citizens they have a 'civic duty' to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus by staying at home and if they don't comply, criminal sanctions may be imposed.
However, those who are asked to do this won't get tested unless they have symptoms - which means many will be unable to work. Many critics have pointed out that asking people to self isolate, when they don't have symptoms and may not even have the virus, without adequately compensating them may result in some people ignoring the advice and going into work.
Even if everyone does follow the advice, the track and trace system is not a 'magic bullet' and its success depends on speed, compliance and monitoring. The Royal Society has said that 'Adding contact tracing for extra-household contacts of confirmed cases to this broader package of interventions reduces the number of new infections otherwise occurring by 5-15%.'
Advice for employers
We recommend that you update your policies and make it clear to staff:
- They must tell you if they have been asked to self isolate by the Test and Trace team and must comply with this request.
- You will allow them to work from home if that's possible for this period.
- If that's not possible, how much you will pay them [eg; SSP, contractual sick pay or full pay]
You will also need to have contingency plans in place if many staff are required to self isolate at the same time.
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Prof Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist with a role in epidemic preparedness, said: “Those most likely to get infected and their contacts are more likely to be the delivery drivers, transport workers, care home workers, shop assistants, the self-employed and so on. So at the point of notification there needs to be provision to support those in need – financially, medically and even accommodation if necessary.