Welsh Government Guidance: Covid-19 Contact tracing

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a tried and tested method of controlling the spread of infectious diseases. The aim is to protect your health and support the ongoing work to control the spread of coronavirus. This is not about enforcement or surveillance and is in the interests of protecting people’s health.

Contact tracing is an important part of our Test, Trace, Protect strategy, which will help us live and work alongside the virus while research continues to find more effective treatments and a vaccine. The strategy is being delivered through the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service.

As soon as people start to display symptoms, they should arrange to take a test as quickly as possible whilst they and members of their household self-isolate. Contact tracing is reliant on tests being taken quickly. On receiving a positive result people are asked to support the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service by reporting their recent contacts to the local contact tracer so that they can be contacted and notified to self-isolate (and take a test if they too are displaying symptoms), to help stop the spread of the virus. The purpose of contact tracing is to provide real time intelligence across the whole of Wales on the coverage of the disease, how quickly it is spreading, and where there are hotspots of infection.

As lockdown restrictions are gradually relaxed, we will all need to take steps to protect ourselves, our families and our communities if we are to successfully limit the spread of the disease. Contact tracing plays an important role in helping us resume day-to-day activities.

How does contact tracing link with our Test, Trace, Protect strategy?

See test, trace, protect: your questions.

What does contact tracing involve?

If you have tested positive:

If you have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will contact you by telephone so that together, we can help reduce the spread of the disease, save lives and keep Wales safe.

You’ll be asked where you’ve been recently and who you’ve been in close contact with. This will help the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service contact anyone who may have caught the virus from you. This is not about enforcement or surveillance and is in the interests of protecting your health and the health of your contacts.

A contact means anyone you may or may not live with and with whom you have been in close proximity on any occasion during a period beginning up to two days before you started experiencing symptoms, including:

  • someone within 1 metre of you with whom you have had a face-to-face-conversation, had skin-to-skin physical contact, you have coughed on, or had other forms of contact within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer
  • someone within 2 metres of you for more than 15 minutes
  • someone you have travelled in a vehicle with - or seated near you in public transport

Read contact tracing: if you have tested positive for further guidance on how you’ll be contacted and the information you’ll be asked to provide.

If you’re a confirmed contact:

You’ll only be called when it’s been confirmed that you have had close contact with someone who has coronavirus. This means you would be at increased risk of catching the disease and passing it on to others so we need to work together to keep Wales safe.

In Wales, contact tracing is about protecting your health and the health of others.

  • You’ll be asked to self-isolate for 14 days to make sure you don’t spread the virus. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t have symptoms. If you’ve been infected, you could become infectious to others at any point up to 14 days. Members of your family are not required to self-isolate, but they should follow the general social distancing guidance and avoid contact with you whilst you are isolating at home.
  • You’ll be asked to monitor your symptoms so that you get tested as soon as possible if needed. You’ll only be advised to take a test if you’re displaying symptoms. Testing while asymptomatic can generate false negatives and is therefore not recommended.

The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service is there to support you through the process, particularly if you are vulnerable or if you have concerns about self-isolation.

If you’re working, your employer should continue to communicate with you and provide support whilst you are in self-isolation. This includes allowing you to work from home if you remain well and if it is practicable to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation. In no circumstances should you return to work during the self-isolation period. We are recommending to employers that self-isolation as part of the contact tracing process should not be recorded against your sickness record.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) may be available to you if you’re unable to work as a result of being contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service through coming into contact with someone who has coronavirus (subject to eligibility). For further information read test, trace, protect: guidance for employers.

Read contact tracing: if you’re a confirmed contact for further information.

What signs should I look out for in terms of scams?

The personal information you’ll be asked to provide on yourself and/or on your contacts is voluntary. You can decline to provide this information if you have any doubts or concerns. In supporting the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service to deliver contact tracing in Wales, you should remain vigilant for any signs of cyber security, spoofing, phishing or fraud. You’ll only be contacted through the service if you’ve received a positive test for coronavirus or you’ve been identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive.

All contacts from the NHS Wales Test Trace Protect Services will come from dedicated numbers, further information on which is included in these pages:

contact tracing: if you’ve tested positive

contact tracing: if you’re a confirmed contact

Read contact tracing: stay alert to scams for further information on what to look out for in terms of scams.

How do I know that the data I provide as part of the contact tracing process will be handled safely?

You’ll only be contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service if:

  • you’ve tested positive for coronavirus
    On requesting a test you’ll be asked to provide your contact details so that you can be informed of your result. Your details will be shared with the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service so that they can contact you and ask you to share information on your recent contacts.
  • you’re a confirmed contact of someone who has tested positive
    The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will contact you if the person who tested positive has passed on your contact details to the service as part of the contact tracing process.
    In terms of securely managing your data, the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will handle this in the same way as other health data in Wales, with all data sent by NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) to SAIL (the databank assisting the Government and NHS in tackling the pandemic). An overarching Wales Accord on the Sharing of Personal Information (WASPI) agreement has been made in respect of the introduction of the mass contact tracing arrangements in Wales. Further information on the role of WASPI.

Who is delivering contact tracing?

The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service includes a number of partners working together to help contain the spread of the virus from Public Health Wales, to the local Health Boards and Local Authorities in Wales, NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) and others.

Contact tracing is being delivered through the health boards. They provide local co-ordination and work in partnership with local authorities and other public services to deploy contact tracing teams. This will help to speed up contact tracing activity and identify new trends or local clusters of the virus as early as possible.

Before rolling out contact tracing in Wales, small scale trials took place in four health board areas – Cwm Taf Morgannwg, Powys, Betsi Cadwaladr and Hywel Dda. These were delivered by NHS Wales contact tracing teams from Bridgend, Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Ceredigion, Powys and Ynys Mon. The trials, which operated for two weeks, explored many of the key aspects of manual tracing, including scripts, volumes, workforce roles and training requirements, data capture and information flow, potential legal issues, scenario planning and high-risk contact requirements. This work was invaluable in helping to inform the roll-out of contact tracing.

How many staff are needed to operate contact tracing in Wales?
A workforce of around 1,000 will be involved in all aspects of the contact tracing programme. Working in close partnership with heath boards and local authorities, we will continue to keep this under review, and increase capacity if needed.

Contact tracing staff will work 7 days a week, including evenings so that contact tracing can be undertaken promptly across Wales this will be critical in terms of delivering rapid follow up on confirmation of a positive test result.

How will the NHS Covid-19 App support contact tracing?
The manual contact tracing approach, which is described above, will be supported by the NHS COVID-19 digital app which will be introduced soon.

The app will let people know if they have been near someone who has reported coronavirus symptoms and will provide them with up-to-date guidance. It will also allow them to apply for a test if they start showing symptoms and it will give them the option of providing information to the app directly about their contacts if they test positive.

The manual process will continue to support the digital app with contact tracers following up to offer support and reinforce the need to isolate, and will also be available for those who prefer not to use the app and/or do not have access to a smartphone.

Further details about the app will be published when it is available.

How many people will need to be contact traced and asked to self-isolate?

The number of people who will need to be contact traced will depend on how people in Wales interact with other people over the coming weeks and months.

For example, factors will include:

  • the number of people someone has been in close contact with
  • their working and social environment
  • journeys they make where they are in close proximity to others

The number of people asked to self-isolate will depend on the number of people who have been in contact with those who have tested positive for coronavirus.

What happens if people don’t comply?

Everyone has a role to play in our national effort to respond to coronavirus. If people don’t help and work together, they put themselves, their families and other people, particularly those most vulnerable, at risk of contracting coronavirus. They would also be helping to spread the disease and contributing to prolonging the pandemic.

The purpose of contact tracing is to protect the health of the Welsh public and control the spread of the virus. It is not about enforcement or surveillance and participation is voluntary but strongly encouraged.

Why will contact tracing start on a positive test result and not on symptoms?

One of the key factors in determining the scale of contact tracing is the number of cases – this is influenced by whether we contact trace on symptoms or a positive test result.

Modelling suggests potentially millions of contacts per month would need to be followed up if contact tracing was operated on the basis of symptoms, which could require a significant proportion of the population self-isolating as a precautionary measure.

We have taken into account these factors and advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). We have always based our approach on the best available scientific evidence, health surveillance and international learning and will continue to do so.

We will continue to review and develop our approach in line with developing scientific and clinical advice, moving to contact tracing on symptoms if the evidence, resources and experience support it.

How long will contact tracing be in operation?

It isn’t possible to give a definitive answer, as it will depend on how people react as the pandemic progresses; how well people continue to respond to the coronavirus regulations as they are reviewed and amended, the need to self-isolate if they have symptoms or if they have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus.

We will operate contact tracing as long as we need to, to contain the spread of the virus in the community.

Contact tracing plays an important role in helping us to live with the virus as work continues to find more effective treatments and a vaccine.