More than one million people were contacted and told to self-isolate during the first week of 2021 – people who might otherwise have gone on to infect others.
This means that 92.7% of contacts, and 86.6% of those who tested positive, were reached over the new year week. This is an increase of 48% (331,758 more) compared with the previous week.
As many more people are being reached and told to self-isolate, the government is extending the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme until the end of March 2021. The scheme provides £500 payments to people who are told to self-isolate but are on a low income, cannot work from home and risk losing earnings, making it easier for people to adhere to self-isolation requirements.
The Government say people can also have confidence that if they have symptoms and need a test, they can get one. NHS Test and Trace’s vastly expanded test site network now has more than 800 test sites in operation, including 432 local test sites. The median distance travelled for a test is just 2.4 miles, compared with 5.1 miles as recently as September.
To add to this, a fleet of 500 new and improved mobile testing units (MTUs) will be hitting the streets this week. MTUs were first introduced in April 2020 and they have carried out over 4.3 million tests to date. Over the past 9 months, MTUs have been the first at the scene at a significant number of outbreaks and critical moments, including testing hauliers in Dover and supporting the mass testing pilot in Liverpool.
According to the NHS the new vehicles offer twice the daily testing capacity of the original model, with the ability to store 1,000 test kits compared with the original’s capacity of 500. This, combined with the doubling of the fleet’s numbers overall from around 250 to 500, will significantly increase the testing capacity offered by the UK’s mobile testing capability.
Alongside the existing symptomatic testing service, NHS Test and Trace has set up a programme to pilot new testing technologies to proactively test individuals without symptoms and to improve the service’s detection of positive cases.
This follows last week’s announcement that the community testing offer is being expanded across all local authorities in England to test people without symptoms.
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “NHS Test and Trace is delivering an essential and impressive service. It is truly extraordinary that a service that was only established last spring could now have contacted more than one million people in a single week, telling them to self-isolate and protect those around them.
“Although the rates of infection are continuing to rise, there can be no doubt that the rates would have increased by much more if NHS Test and Trace had not tested the 2.6 million people it provided tests to, or contacted such a large proportion of those who tested positive. I want to pay thanks to the efforts and dedication of everybody involved.
“While our testing capacity continues to grow as part of the government’s winter plan, NHS Test and Trace is also deploying hundreds of thousands of rapid tests to identify asymptomatic cases. Around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 don’t display symptoms, meaning you can infect others unknowingly. It is therefore crucial that we continue to follow public health guidance, and all play our part by following the rules and reducing our social contact to slow the spread of the virus.”
In total during the week of 31 December to 6 January, 1,019,253 people who had either tested positive or were a recent close contact of someone who had tested positive were reached and told to self-isolate.
Over the past months, the government has put in place the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities created in British history. More than 58 million tests have been conducted in the UK so far and more than 6 million cases and contacts have been reached and told to self-isolate by contact tracers.
NHS Test and Trace now has the capacity to carry out more than 790,000 tests per day, compared with 2,000 just nine months ago.
Launched on 28 September 2020, the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme is administered by lower-tier and unitary authorities in England, with an initial £50 million of government funding for local authorities to cover the cost of administering the scheme.
To ensure people continue to have access to the support they need to stay at home, and reduce the transmission of COVID-19, the Government say they are now providing an additional £20 million to local authorities to cover the cost of the scheme. This includes an additional £10 million to enable local authorities to continue making discretionary payments to people who fall outside the scope of the main scheme, but who will still face hardship if required to self-isolate.
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To access the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme click here.