What is the workplace contact-tracing pilot scheme causing a political row?

·3-min read

A pilot scheme which allows contacts of people testing positive for coronavirus to carry out essential activities and not self-isolate has been the centre of a furious political row on Sunday.

Here we look at the scheme hoping to help avert the so-called “pingdemic.”

– What is the new scheme?

The workplace pilot scheme will assess the effectiveness of daily contact tracing for those who have been in contact with people testing positive for coronavirus.

The study, is being led by Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

It began in December 2020 and findings are due to published later this summer.

Coronavirus – Mon Mar 8, 2021
Close contacts of people with Covid-19 will be contacted by phone and sent seven days’ worth of lateral flow tests, the DHSC said.

– Why is it being carried out?

It is hoped the scheme will provide evidence to help reduce the length of time that contacts of Covid- positive people need to self-isolate for.

The DHSC said reducing self-isolation periods would prevent individuals missing work and doing day-to-day activities, helping to reopen the economy and society.

– How does it work?

Close contacts of people with Covid-19 will be contacted by phone and sent seven days’ worth of lateral flow tests, the DHSC said.

All contacts will be required to perform a test every morning for seven days.

Those who develop no symptoms and also test negative will be exempt from self-isolation on that day and can leave their homes to carry out essential activities, but will still need to take another test the following day to check they remain exempt.

– Who is involved in the workplace pilot?

The scheme is being piloted with a variety of selected organisations from the private and public sectors.

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Currently, 20 organisations are involved, including Network Rail, TFL, Heathrow and Border Force, and Downing Street – who joined the scheme in May.

The DHSC said businesses who had expressed an interest in the pilot that met these criteria were selected, and the selection was designed to ensure a spread of different types of organisation.

A full list of the organisations involved is due to be published, with their permission, with the results of the pilot.

– Can anyone apply to be involved?

The DHSC said only a limited number of organisations could be included in the early phase of the trial and no more would be invited to take part until further data was returned.

– What is the current situation for most people?

Currently, anybody who has been notified through NHS Test and Trace as a contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for 10 days.

– So what’s caused the political row?

On Sunday Number 10 announced that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, but would not be isolating as they were taking part in the pilot.

The news caused a furious backlash online from members of the Labour Party, including shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and deputy leader Angela Rayner, who accused the Government of being “above the law”.

But in a dramatic turnaround just hours later, Downing Street said the men would be self-isolating rather than taking part in a daily contact testing pilot.

– Is that it then?

Labour has demanded an apology from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, accusing them of a “farcical cover-up”.

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The reality is, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been caught red-handed trying to get round the rules they expect everyone else to follow.

“They must now apologise for their contempt for the British public and for needlessly dragging hard-working transport workers into their farcical cover-up.”

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