Test, trace, isolate and support: what you need to know about the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 plan

Two weeks ago, the Scottish Government set out, in its latest framework for decision making, our plans to continue suppressing COVID-19 and minimising the virus’s harm, while seeking a viable and safe way to ease the lockdown.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will all need to continue to play our part in Scotland’s response to the disease. To protect each other, our lives are not going to go back to exactly how they were.

We know there are no simple solutions to the challenges that lie ahead, and no quick-fixes that will allow us to lift restrictions quickly or dramatically. However, we know how important it is to restore as much normality to life as soon as we can.

To chart that path forward, the Scottish Government has now published its “test, trace, isolate and support” strategy. Here’s all the essential information you need to know.

The approach aims to interrupt chains of COVID-19 transmission in the community

The “test, trace, isolate, support” approach is a well-established public health intervention, designed to help us interrupt chains of community transmission by identifying cases of COVID-19, tracing the people who may have become infected by being in close contact with them, and then supporting those close contacts to self-isolate, so that if they have the disease, they are less likely transmit to it to others.

For the approach to work, the levels of the disease need to be sufficiently low

The “test, trace, isolate, support” approach will be most effective when levels of infection are low and remain low – lower than now – and its success relies on all of us knowing and agreeing what to do if we have symptoms, and being prepared to self-isolate when advised to do so.

Other public health measures such as social distancing, wearing masks when going out for essential reasons, and good hand hygiene, will remain crucial.

It will be first introduced among the groups already being tested

We will introduce “test, trace, isolate, support” starting with contacts of priority groups we are already testing, such as hospital patients and NHS and social care workers, and then quickly broaden coverage as we continue to increase our testing capacity, so that contact tracing is carried out for all cases identified in the community.

We’ve been rapidly ramping up testing capacity in Scotland – and will continue to develop it even further and faster

The “test, trace, isolate, support” approach will have the greatest impact when people know to self-isolate if they have symptoms, are able to receive the test quickly, and to get results delivered rapidly.

We have already rapidly expanded NHS testing capacity in Scotland, from 350 samples a day at the start of the outbreak to 4,350 samples now, and with plans to increase that further to 8,000 samples each day by mid-May.

Our testing capacity will grow further once “test, trace, isolate and support” is rolled out and expanded across Scotland.

Digital tools will support contact tracing

A secure web-based tool for the NHS in Scotland, accessible on smartphones or computers, will allow those who are able to input details of people that they have been in close contact with, and for these to be sent directly and securely to contact tracing teams.

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

People who develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be supported to isolate immediately – and will be able to access testing

Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to isolate for 7 days and their close contacts will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. It will be important that the people identified as close contacts remain in self-isolation for the full 14 days. If they later start to develop symptoms, the process of “test, trace, isolate and support” will begin again for any close contacts they have had while in the isolation period.

Self-isolation can be very challenging, but there will be support available

We know that some people will find self-isolation for 14 days very challenging. We will work to ensure that support is in place to enable people to do this safely and to minimise the financial, social and wellbeing impacts.

The approach will not be effective on its own – it will go alongside other key public health measures

Instead it must 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 disease surveillance.

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