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First Minister announces launch of test, trace, isolate strategy to deal with Covid-19

By Scott Maclennan

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Scotland's contact tracing methodology
Scotland's contact tracing methodology

Scotland’s First Minister has announced the long-awaited test, trace, isolate strategy (TTI) that is aimed at returning the country to "a degree of normality" while still controlling coronavirus.

Nicola Sturgeon said two elements were key to the success of testing and tracing people who potentially have Covid-19. These werethe willingness of the public to cooperate and the ability to increase the capacity to test.

She underlined as well the likelihood that lockdown measures will not be lifted when they are reviewed on Thursday. There will be a further update about the rate of infection in Scotland at tomorrow’s briefing.

The First Minister also hinted that there could be a change in the lockdown by the end of the month, when the measures currently in place are reviewed again.

Ms Sturgeon also discussed the spike in cases linked to Home Farm care home on Skye where a total of 28 of the home's 34 residents and 26 of its 52 staff tested positive over the weekend.

She said: “We know that, as we see on Skye today, care home transmission continue to be a very significant challenge, so all things considered, and let me stress decisions are yet to be formally taken, it is very likely that on Thursday I will be asking you to stick with the lockdown for a bit.

“Tomorrow, I will set out our current assessment of levels of infection and the R number [rate of infection] and also, in general terms, the possible changes the Scottish government will be considering ahead of the next review date of May 28, as wetry to get a degree of normality back into our lives while being careful still to suppress the virus.

“Today I want to discuss what will be a key part of the approach we take when we have sufficiently suppressed the virus and are able to start moving into the next phase and that is called the test, trace, and isolate approach or TTI for short.

“TTI involves anyone who has symptoms indicative of Covid-19 immediately isolating themselves as everybody is meant to do right now, quickly getting in touch with the NHS to arrange a test and also sharing details of the people they have been in contact with.

“Professionals called contact tracers then get in touch with those contacts to advise them to isolate for 14 days and, if any of them develop symptoms, they get tested and the process starts again with their contacts.

“It is all about breaking the chain of transmission of the virus, but without all of us being confined to our homes all of the time as is the case right now.

"I want to set out a couple of key points today, and the reason is this a test, trace, isolate approach will only work if you, the public, are willing to do what we ask of you.

“A successful TTI approach depends on us first suppressing the virus to as low a level as possible. If infection rates are too high, or if they get too high in the future, the number of people with symptoms and who will need to get tested could overwhelm the system, even with a vastly expanded testing capacity.

“Second, TTI will be a key part of our approach, but it will not on its own keep infection rates down or the R number below one. It's not a quick fix or a magic solution. It will have to be combined with a continued physical distancing, rigorous hygiene and the appropriate use of face coverings, and crucially you the public knowing exactly what it is we are asking you to do, why we are asking you, and being prepared to do it.

“That means if you have symptoms, you need to recognise them and be willing to isolate, to contact the NHS and get tested and also be prepared to share details of anyone you've been in contact with and, for all of us, it will mean being prepared to isolate for 14 days if we are contacted and told that we have been in close proximity to someone.

“We are also making preparations now to be in a position to start delivering an enhanced TTI approach by the end of this month.

“First, that means continuing to expand our testing capacity. You’ll recall I told you by the middle of this month we will have the capacity to do 12,000 tests per day but our initial estimate is that we will have to get to 15,500 tests a day just to support TTI – so it is very clear that continued ongoing expansion will be needed.

“We also estimate that we will need up to 2000 additional contact tracers to do the work that will be required, we are also building a digital system to make much of this process as possible can be automated.”

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