Today, 28 May 2020, the Test and Trace scheme commenced. Under the scheme, people will be contacted by “contact tracers” and told to self-isolate, where they have come into contact with a person who tests positive.
What does Test and Trace mean?
Broadly the rules have not changed; anyone who develops symptoms have to isolate for seven days, with the rest of the household isolating for fourteen days. Anyone with those symptoms can ask for a test online or phone to arrange a test.
The new process thereafter is that if a test comes back negative, the household can go back to normal.
If the test comes back positive, tracers will contact who test positive with coronavirus and ask who they have had close contact with and places they have been. Any of those contacts deemed at risk of infection will be contacted by text, phone or email, and told to isolate for 14 days, even if they are not sick. Those persons will be tested only if they develop symptoms. The rest of their household does not have to isolate, unless someone becomes ill.
Close contact, under contact tracing, is spending more than 15 minutes or more at a distance of less than 2m with people, or those that someone has direct contact with including household members. The contact must have taken place between two days before and up to seven days after symptoms appeared.
Some people may have to isolate on more than one occasion, where told to do so.
What happens if employees are told to isolate?
When instructed by contact tracers to isolate, or where employees have symptoms, they should be allowed to isolate at home as soon as possible. This means that, in some cases, employees should be instructed or encouraged to return home to commence self isolation, to reduce possible infection of the rest of the workforce.
Employees who are isolating as instructed by Track and Trace will be eligible for sick pay, and can obtain isolation notes from 111 online. Employers will be able to claim a rebate for the sick pay for up to 14 days for each employee.
Could an entire workplace or workforce be isolated?
This could be possible, but only where that workplace doesn’t have the necessary social distancing rules in place, or are unable to do so. This is because, as above, a person has to be in close contact, which is being less than two metres apart for more than fifteen minutes. Where proper social distancing is observed, this shouldn’t be an issue.
The main area at which whole rafts of the workforce may be isolated could be on the use of public transport – if everyone comes in on the same bus, for example, where social distancing isn’t possible, then there could be mass isolation.
If a business wants to reduce the risk of large number of staff being isolated under Track and Trace, they should ensure that social distancing is strictly observed.
Also, employers might want to consider changing and staggering shift patterns, so there are fewer people in the office at any single time. This will reduce the number of people they come into contact with and will ultimately decrease the chances of the virus spreading.
What about the app and what does the app mean in workplaces?
It was originally intended that everyone would have to download an app, which would assess the location of persons and who they have been in close contact with. Essentially, the app would do the work of the contact tracers, by identifying those persons who’ve been in contact with. The app would/will then notify those people of their isolation obligations.
It is hoped that the app will be up and running next month.
The reports are that the app is till due to be released in due course. When it is released, companies may want to consider what their rules are on allowing mobile phones in workplaces and whether they support the use of the app during work hours. As above, it may be that employees will be contacted during work hours, and informed (through the app) of their contact with an infected person. If the app becomes the only method of this information, employers should ensure that employees have access to this.
Could I force my employees to download the app?
In short, we would suggest that you request staff download the app on health and safety grounds. Whether you can demand that someone downloads an app which has proven health and safety benefits on their personal phone is an untested area; the concerns about employee privacy on their own devices may have precedence over the health and safety concerns. You can, certainly, request that all employees download the app on their work phones, but obviously the concern there is whether they take those work phones with them everywhere they go, or whether they have limited relevance when reviewing everyone an employee has been in contact with. If you do want to force people to download the app, you should perhaps ensure that there is a policy in place, to explain what is expected of employees in their usage of that app.
At the moment, there is no suggestion that it will be mandatory across the UK to download the app.
There are lots more questions regarding how Track and Trace and the plans moving forward might impact the workplace and employees. If you have any further questions, our coronavirus helpline (firstname.lastname@example.org) remains open.
By Alicia Collinson