Ministers have recruited 25,000 contact tracers ahead of the launch of the government’s flagship test and trace programme which aims to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The programme, which involves tracing and advising people who may have come into close contact with someone testing positive for the virus, is set to launch at the end of this week.
The government has been aiming for human contact tracers to be in place for Monday 1 June, the earliest date for opening schools and non-essential shops in England.
Widespread contact tracing was abandoned in mid-March as the number of COVID-19 cases soared in the UK, but a test, track and trace (TTT) strategy is now seen as playing a crucial role in efforts to ease the lockdown while avoiding a second wave of infections.
The government is also currently trialling a contact-tracing NHS app on the Isle of Wight.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has sought to play down the importance of the delayed app in the contact tracing process.
He had originally said the app would be rolled out by mid-May, but it has now been delayed by several weeks.
The test and trace system will involve the public being asked to work closely with the newly-recruited contact tracers, who will run a national virtual call centre operation, the government says.
The contact tracers will request that individuals testing positive for COVID-19 share information about who they have been in recent, prolonged close contact with and who might have been exposed to the virus.
This is most likely to be either be members of someone’s own household or work colleagues.
By informing those who might have been exposed, contact tracers can ensure they receive advice and guidance to keep them safe and to prevent the virus from spreading further.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “A test and trace system allows us to isolate new infections so that we can control the spread of this virus, which will be vital while coronavirus remains present in the UK.
“As we continue on the road to recovery, this will mean that in time lockdown will no longer be necessary for the vast majority of the public and instead it will be possible for there to be a targeted lockdown for a small number of people.
“For this to be effective, everyone will need to stay alert and play their part to control the virus and save lives.
“By working with our tracers and complying with the rules, the public will avoid unknowingly spreading the virus to their family and loved ones and this new test and trace service will help to control coronavirus.”
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Meanwhile it has emerged the prime minister will hold a cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the ways lockdown restrictions will begin to ease for certain sectors.
While no changes are expected before 1 June, it is understood that guidance and advice will be given in relation to the sectors that are covered in step two of the government’s roadmap for exiting the lockdown.
This will include an update on the new test, track and trace programme, an announcement on schools, and potentially an update on non-essential retail.