Contact tracing has been used throughout the COVID-19 response. It was not stopped.
At the start of the outbreak, when we were in the ‘contain’ phase, we traced the contacts of every case. This helped to delay community transmission and bought time for the National Health Service and country to prepare. As the virus became more widespread and the chains of transmission unclear, the country moved to the ‘delay’ phase, and the contact tracing approach changed. Rather than follow up every case, we focused on specific places such as care homes and prisons to control specific outbreaks and protect those most at risk of infection.
On testing, from the start of the pandemic, our first priority was patients. This was vital in helping clinicians to better understand their condition and ensure they received the best quality care. As our capacity increased, we then expanded testing to other groups.
As we move into the next phase of our response, both testing and contact tracing will play an increasingly important role – that is why we are developing an integrated test and trace programme. This includes a new app which will complement existing web-based and phone-based contact tracing approaches. Alongside this there will be swab testing for anyone reporting COVID-19 symptoms.
This programme will play an important role in helping to minimise the spread of the virus in the future.