NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) is England’s COVID-19 contact tracing programme. It was launched on 28 May and is a central part of the government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has pledged to deliver a 'world-beating system.' Yet since it was introduced, the programme has been repeatedly criticised for failing to live up to expectations.

Key points:

  • Testing for COVID-19 to identify cases and close contacts of those who test positive, alongside asking those close contacts to isolate, is essential to control the spread of the disease.
  • NHS Test and Trace launched on 28 May 2020 and although progress has been made, it is not yet the ‘world-beating’ contact tracing programme that was promised, with ongoing challenges around test capacity and contacting both cases and their contacts.
  • Despite significant investment, only between 50% and 60% of contacts of known cases are being advised to isolate, yet the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has suggested that for a contact tracing system to be effective, it needs to trace around 80% of contacts of an index case.
  • As cases in England rise, the government needs to urgently learn from the journey so far to ensure that tests are available for those who need them and that policies aimed at improving contact tracing do not further exacerbate the inequalities already exposed by COVID-19.
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