coronavirus testing and tracing

THIIS has examined the latest government guidance for companies relating to the new NHS test and trace service and highlighted the key points that mobility businesses should be aware of as England continues to ease lockdown restrictions.

Launched today (28th May 2020), the new NHS test and trace service forms a central part of the coronavirus recovery strategy, states the government, and will see anyone with coronavirus symptoms tested and their close contacts traced.

Individuals identified by the NHS test and trace service as having been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 will have to self-isolate for 14 days, according to the government, even if they have no symptoms.

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How test and trace works

Any person exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, such as a new continuous cough, high temperature or a change in their sense of smell or taste, will be asked to immediately report these symptoms and book a test at

If the person tests positive, the NHS test and trace team will work with the individual to gather and share notifications to any close recent contacts informing them to self-isolate where necessary.

According to the government, close contacts may include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within two-metres for more than 15 minutes.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks.”

Working with the test and trace service

Importantly, the government has stressed that the test and trace service does not change businesses’ obligations set out in its reopening of businesses guidance released earlier in the month, including the reopening of shops and working in people’s homes advice.

Urging companies to ensure their staff heed notifications to isolate, the government states in its guidance that “although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.”

Employees that are told to self-isolate

For workers that do test positive for coronavirus or those alerted by the test and trace service, companies “must not ask them to attend the workplace”, states the guidance, instead recommending they work from home, where possible.

Those in positions where working from home is not possible, such as retail store assistants or driver technicians, employers “must ensure any self-isolating employee is receiving sick pay and give them the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer.”

For companies, this means employees are entitled to full pay for the duration of their leave if they opt for paid-holiday as opposed to Statutory Sick Pay.

However, the government guidance states that: “An employee who is self-isolating who can work from home must do so, by agreement with their employer.”

Employees unable to work from home in self-isolation will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions, notes the guidance, with companies able to claim this back from the government.

According to the guidance, the NHS test and trace service notification given to individuals either by email or text message will be able to be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.

Contact tracing and the wider workforce

Social distance floor

Notably, companies should be aware that if a member of a team contracts the virus and tests positive, there is a chance that colleagues they have worked closely with will also be required to self-isolate.

To avoid having large swathes of their workforce self-isolate at the same time, companies should limit the amount of staff working in close proximity to one another, where possible, by introducing a fixed pairing system – as outlined in the guidance for reopening shops and working in homes.

If an employee contracts coronavirus symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact within the 48 hours prior to the symptoms manifesting.

In the case that any of those close contacts are co-workers, the employee can request that their employer alert those co-workers, however, companies are not obliged to share this.

For those close contacts that have been alerted by the individual with symptoms, they are not required to self-isolate until told to do so by the NHS test and trace team but are advised to avoid contact with those who are particularly at risk if they contract the disease.

In the event of a workplace outbreak

According to the guidance, if a cluster of cases of coronavirus appears in a workplace, an ‘outbreak control team’ from either the local authority or Public Health England will, if necessary, be deployed and assigned to help the employer manage the outbreak.

Contact tracing action relating to specific settings

Of particular importance to mobility companies, the contact tracing process will be escalated to local public health experts, who will liaise as necessary with the manager of the relevant setting workers, in the event of an employee with COVID-19 visited specific settings.

These settings include health or care facilities, such as a hospital or care home, as well as schools for children with special needs.

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