Test and Protect: essential explainer

To chart the path forward in fighting this virus, and to help restore as much normality to life as soon as it’s safe, the Scottish Government is launching its Test and Protect system in every one of Scotland’s 14 health board areas from Thursday, May 28th.

It will enable the Scottish Government to gradually change the restrictions and suppress the virus, instead of just containing it – allowing our society and economy to avoid a return to lockdown and to adapt to a new normal.

Here’s all the essential information you need to know.

The public health approach to suppress the virus

Test and Protect is Scotland’s public health approach to implementing the ‘test, trace, isolate and support’ strategy, aiming to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

This approach is designed to help us interrupt chains of community transmission by identifying cases of COVID-19, tracing the people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with them, and then supporting those close contacts to self-isolate – so that they’re less likely to transmit the virus to others.

As part of the Test and Protect strategy, the NHS will also be asking people to self-isolate who do not have symptoms, but have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Who needs to self-isolate

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 – a new cough, fever, or a loss and/or change of taste and/or smell – you must self-isolate at home for 7 days.

If you live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive, you will be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

If you have symptoms, contact the NHS to arrange to be tested at 0800 028 2816 or go to the NHS Inform website.

Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be put in touch with the local contact tracing team, so that other close contacts can be identified. These close contacts, as well as household contacts, will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

How to self-isolate

Self-isolation means you should remain at home and shouldn’t go to work, school, public areas or use public transport. You shouldn’t go out to buy food or other essentials. You must stay at home for the full length of time – 7 or 14 days – that’s required.

While you are self-isolating, you should:

  • stay at least 2 metres (6 feet, or 3 steps) away from other people in your home
  • stay in a different room from other people in your home, ensuring it is well-ventilated
  • sleep alone in a separate bed
  • spend as little time as possible in shared areas (sitting room, kitchen, bathroom)
  • avoid using your kitchen while others are present
  • use a separate towel to dry your hands after you wash them; and
  • clean your kitchen, bathroom and other surfaces throughout the house every day

You can always check NHS Inform for the most up-to-date health information and advice, as well as detailed advice on how to self-isolate effectively.

Getting support if you need it

We know how hard this will be for a lot of us, but Test and Protect will only succeed in suppressing the virus if we all play our part, follow the instructions the NHS gives, and adhere to the self-isolation guidance so we can save lives.

Many people will be able to self-isolate effectively with the help of family, friends and neighbours where they need it.

However, some of us may not have that sort of help nearby and may find self-isolation very challenging. If you’re in that situation, it doesn’t mean you are alone – help is available.

You can find information about how to get additional support on the Ready Scotland website.

And if you need it, you can call the National Assistance Helpline on 0800 111 4000, open Monday-Friday between 9am and 5pm.

Digital tools will support contact tracing

We’re enhancing and extending the use of software that public health teams teams already use for contact tracing in relation to other infectious diseases, and this software has been piloted in Fife, Lanarkshire and Highland in recent weeks. From Thursday 28th May, it will be operational in every NHS health board.

At a later point, we will also add a digital platform to allow people who test positive to enter details of their contacts online.

However, we also recognise that not everyone in Scotland will want, or be able, to use a web-based tool, and so we’re ensuring that telephone support is available for everyone who needs it.

We have reached the required testing capacity – and we’re continuing to build it further

To launch Test and Protect nationally, we needed the ability to conduct over 15,000 tests a day and the Scottish Government has now reached that capacity.

It will be delivered through a combination of NHS labs, academic partners, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow – and we’re continuing to build higher testing capacity and make it more locally accessible.

Test and Protect will go alongside other key public health measures

The Test and Protect approach will not be effective in suppressing the virus on its own. Instead, it will be used alongside other public health measures to reduce transmission, such as social distancing, good hand and respiratory hygiene, the appropriate use of face coverings, and the surveillance of disease spread.

For all the essential advice and health guidance you need, visit the NHS Inform website, and keep up with the recent developments on our dedicated COVID-19 page.

The current advice remains clear: Stay Home, Save Lives

The current Scottish Government advice remains to stay at home except for essential purposes, such as essential work that can’t be done from home, exercise (which can now be done more than once a day), and buying essential supplies such as food and medicine.

However, as we keep making further progress on suppressing the virus, the Scottish Government is expected to enter the Phase 1 of its roadmap to easing the lockdown – starting this Thursday, 28th May.

Read more about the Scottish Government’s strategy for a path out of lockdown here.