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COVID-19: What is the COVID-19 NHS Test and Trace System and is it Proving Effective?

Much has been said by politicians and the media about the NHS COVID-19 Test and Trace system, often without really explaining what it is, how it works, why we need it, and whether it is proving effective; this is the topic of this article.

What exactly is the NHS Track and Trace system?

Ask most people in the street what the NHS Test and Trace system is, and you are likely to receive a mixture of answers. Firstly, it is important to note that NHS Track and Trace is not just an ‘app’, rather it is a whole process involving people, processes, and technology. Secondly, we need to understand what the system is designed to achieve. According to the Government, NHS Test and Trace is designed to:

  • ensure that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus, and also includes targeted asymptomatic testing of NHS and social care staff and care home residents
  • helps trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus and, if necessary, notifies them that they must self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus

In other words, it is about targeted testing and tracing those who need to self-isolate. The ultimate aim of the system is to reduce the reproduction rate (the so-called “R rate”) of the virus.

How Does the NHS Test and Trace System Work?

When looking at how the NHS Test and Trace system works, it is useful to look at the process from start to finish.

Stage 1: COVID-19 Testing

The Government has made is quite clear that it does not want everyone to simply request a test when it is not needed. Ultimately this would lead to the overload of the already-stretched laboratory system. In order to have a test (either by using a drive-in testing service or a home-delivered test kit), one of the following must apply:

  • you have a high temperature
  • you have a new, continuous cough
  • you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste, or it’s changed
  • you’ve been asked to by a local council
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project

Patients who are due to have surgery or a medical procedure may also be tested.

Those with symptoms are required to self-isolate for at least ten days, and others in the same household must also self-isolate for 14 days.

For those who receive a negative diagnosis, there is no longer a need to self-isolate.

For those who receive a positive diagnosis, the diagnosed person and people in the household will need to finish their period of isolation.

At this point, the Test and Trace system will progress to the next stage, and the person who received a positive diagnosis will be contacted by phone, email, or text asking them to provide details of people with whom they had close, recent contact, and places they have visited.

This information can be entered directly by the person with a positive diagnosis into a secure Government website or by speaking directly to a trained NHS contact tracer.

Stage 2: COVID-19 tracing and alerting

The second aspect of the NHS Test and Trace system is all about informing those who may have been in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 – based on the information gathered in the first stage.

People at risk will be alerted by phone call, text, or email. Once a person is alerted, according to the Government Test and Trace guidance, “you should then log on to the NHS Test and Trace website, which is normally the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you must do. Under-18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue”. Alerted individuals then need to self-isolate for 14 days from their last contact with the person who has tested positive. But crucially, those in the same household as the alerted person do not need to self-isolate. The alerted person only needs to have a COVID-19 test themselves if they show symptoms of the virus. If they do, and they have a positive result, they must continue to self-isolate. If they are negative, they will still need to complete the 14 day period of self-isolation as the virus can take a few days to become detectable in testing.

What is the NHS Test and Trace App?

The NHS Test and Trace App is designed to help facilitate the above process. It does not replace it, but it adds a great deal of value. The new version of the app uses technology developed by Google and Apple and allows the Government to automate the process of finding those who have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19. As Wired magazine explains, “The NHS contact tracing app – like other similar apps around the world – uses a form of low energy Bluetooth to identify phones nearby (these are referred to as encounters). The app uses Bluetooth signal strength between different devices to estimate the distance between people. When someone tests positive for Covid-19 the system can send out alerts to people they have had encounters with. These alerts tell people that they should self-isolate”. Interestingly, only those who have been in ‘high-risk’ encounters will be told to self-isolate. This is worked out using an algorithm which takes a number of factors into account, including how close the people were and for how long. When working out the applicable risk for each encounter, there are three categories: close (within 0-2 metres), medium (2-4m) or far (further than 4m).

Is the NHS Test and Trace system proving effective?

Despite much early criticism of NHS Test and Trace, the number of cases being referred to the system and being handled by it has continued to rise considerably. The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) says that in order to be judged as ‘effective’, the system needs to be getting hold of at least 80% of close contacts of positive cases. In the most recent period, the NHS Test and Trace system achieved 60%, and this has been falling for four weeks consecutively. According to the official statistics, “From 8 to 14 October 2020, 69% of people who were transferred to the NHSTT system provided details of at least one close contact. 60% of the close contacts identified were reached and asked to self-isolate”. Whether the system is truly effective will only be known in the future. While it may not be meeting the SAGE target, what matters is that it brings the R-rate down to more manageable levels over the imminent period.

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O.L

Andy Tieu is absolutely amazing.

As a lawyer myself I can categorically say that he knows his stuff, gentle, responsive, cares about you and not just about the money, very professional.
I mean I can go on and on!

Andy and the entire team at Reiss Edwards are amazing!

Thanks again Andy.

Kiran Sardar


I found Joe very helpful and tremendous patience which is a must in this professional as there are lots of emotions always involved in each and every case.

The way they dealt with my case during COVID19 Situation is highly appreciable. I would definitely recommend Joe D. and Anna F. Anna is an amazing lady, her patience is beyond my words.

Her hard work and professionalism have no boundaries. She is the right person for all type of cases.

Thanks to Anna and Joe for all your support and guidance which helped me fulfill my dream.

I would say Reiss Edwards is lucky to have Joe D. and Anna F. Great job Reiss Edwards.

thanks once again. Anna you’re a Gem and a Star.

Cheyam Shaked

"Anna Foley was the lawyer helping my partner obtain an EEA EFM visa. She was outstanding. Handling the case with constant correspondence over a lengthy, lockdown delayed 7-month application process. Her expert advice guided us successfully through some difficult times as a result of COVID-19. Some of the best service I have received for any service ever! Often replying to emails late at night, offering to send additional correspondence to the home office and going above and beyond in handling our case! Well done and thank you Reiss Edwards and thank you Anna!!".

Isaac .T

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Jesse Lee

"Reiss Edwards did a great job, and so much work, for their reasonable fixed fee. I would heartily recommend them to anyone looking to secure a Visa and /or Visa renewal. I will use them again when mine needs to renew. Great value".

Majlinda Berisha

"The help, the professionalism, the kindness from this team is phenomenal. A massive thank you to Anna Foley.

I have had a really tough time with getting my husband’s visa. My last immigration lawyer made many mistakes that caused stress, disappointments and sadness.

I was weary about getting another lawyer as I thought I was going to go through the same experience but no, it turned out better than what I had hoped or even imagined.

What I received was: constant emails and calls updating me and asking if anything else is needed. If I called and they missed my phone call I would get a call back within 10 minutes. All of my documents were carefully checked and I would get a reply the next day if anything was missing or not correct. There were times that I was impatient and asked to just send the visa off, but was reminded that everything had to be perfect and correct before submitting the application. I was told about every option I had and discussed what the best would be. I was always spoke in a nice, calm, polite manner.

The overall intelligence of this team, especially Anna Foley for me, is outstanding. I am speechless. Anna done such an amazing job on my husband’s application that although we couldn’t apply for the fast service and was told to wait for 12 weeks, we got a reply within 5 weeks.

That alone shows what an amazing and talented team Reiss Edwards are. Thank you".

Christine .C

"I wholeheartedly recommend Reiss Edwards to anyone who is in search of immigration advice. I had the pleasure of speaking with Amar who has been very thorough in finding a solution to my enquiry, and followed up with additional information even after the consultation. I normally don't leave reviews, and this firm already has enough good reviews for me to need to my own anyways! However, in this instance, I do hope that my review can let anyone who reads it be aware that RE is a great choice, these people care enough to help you the best they can".

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"Thank you, Ms. Anna Foley! I am writing this with tears of joy.

As a family, we are all grateful to Anna Foley and her firm Reiss Edwards, for doing all the hard work and giving us the best support. Finally We found the best law firm".

Saira Lawson-Brown

"Highly professional organisation and really supportive solicitors. Ina Iteva the solicitor that was provided to us was a blessing in disguise, as our first solicitor was let go off due to pandemic. She was so supportive and understanding throughout the process, and my husband spouse visa was granted due to their effort and attention to detail. We constantly try to keep in touch with her and consider her as more of a friend now than a solicitor. Sure, to bother her and the firm more in the future".

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"My Tier 1 Investor Visa was dealt with quickly and without issue. Would recommend Reiss Edwards as an Immigration law firm in London. Thank you to the team".

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"This is the only firm that i spoke with that didn't ask for money before listening to me, will be using them again. I used Reiss Edwards for my Tier 2 visa application and it was successful. The team was ever present and happy to answer my question. The caseworker that dealing with my case went on holiday yet by case did not suffer one bit. Another lawyer stepped and took over the case without any hassle".

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Top Notch Immigration Service

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Gallagher Jones

"I contacted Reiss Edwards to help me with my wife's UK settlement visa. They acted with utmost professionalism throughout the entire application. I spoke with Joe Dinh, he is an immigration solicitor and he is one of the best solicitors out there. He ensured that there was little to no room for error. At some point I thought he was over cautious. He remained calmed and continued to assure us on our immigration matter. Most people in his position would have panicked but he was calmed and continued to assure us. We received out positive outcome very quickly".

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Salisu Ibrahim

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"The team of lawyers at Reiss Edwards are very professional and friendly people. Their experience in and around UK immigration law is quite extensive; be sure that you application is in safe and competent hands. My immigration matter was an indefinite leave to remain application based on Tier 1 on a self-employment basis. The immigration lawyers at Reiss Edwards made sure that the application was perfect and ready to be accepted. I got a positive decision and I recommend them highly for anyone who needs a UK immigration help".

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