Test and Trace tightens 15-minute ‘close contact’ rule
Asked why the guidance for test and trace had been changed, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We’ve always kept the latest scientific data and evidence under constant review and it remains the case that the key driver of transmission is person-to-person contact… and the fact that people are in close proximity.”
“We’ve been asking people to keep contact to an absolute minimum, we’ve been asking people to maintain social distancing and to limit the amount of duration of each interaction throughout the pandemic.”
Anyone who tests positive for Covid is told that their whole household should self-isolate for the rest of the 10-day period from when their symptoms began.
In addition, they are told to provide details of people they were in contact with, in the 48 hours before developing symptoms, as well as the time since.
This includes anyone they had face-to-face contact with from less than one metre away, for any length of time, and regardless of if face coverings or masks were worn.
It also includes anyone the person shared a car or small vehicles with, or sat close to on a plane.
Until now, being within two metres of someone for one period of more than 15 minutes also counted as a “close contact”. But now this is counted even if the 15 minutes was made up of several brief interactions.
Positive cases are also asked to hand over details of any workplace they have visited or worked in.
How does it work?
In September, England and Wales launched a contact tracing app – the NHS Covid-19 app – as part of efforts to tackle the pandemic. The app, downloaded by millions of people in the UK, is designed to let people know if they have been in contact with someone who later tests positive for Covid.
Users can record details of their symptoms on the app on their phone if they start to feel unwell. It keeps a trace of others who have been in close contact through phones’ Bluetooth signals.
These perform an anonymous digital “handshake” when two users are close to each other.
Typically, this threshold can be reached if two people are around two metres apart for 15 minutes.
However, it can also be reached through shorter periods, if people are in closer proximity, or if the algorithm deems that the person who tested positive is likely to have been particularly infectious.