As record numbers of people across the UK tested positive for Covid-19, the country’s test and trace system also reached record levels of people - asking them to self-isolate and breaking down chains of transmission from people who may well have otherwise not known they were at risk of spreading the virus.
During the first week of 2021, more than one million people were contacted and told to self-isolate.
This represents NHS Test and Trace reaching 92.7% of contacts, and 86.6% of those who tested positive, over the New Year week.
Those figures marked a 48% increase compared with the previous week - equal to some 331,758 more people being contacted.
In order to support the greater number of people being reached and told to self-isolate, the Government has announced an extension to the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme until the end of March 2021.
The scheme provides £500 payments to people who are told to self-isolate but are on a low income, cannot work from home and risk losing earnings, making it easier for people to adhere to self-isolation requirements. There have been calls both to extend the eligibility for the scheme, and to increase the financial support amounts, to further encourage people to follow the self-isolation instructions.
The UK has also worked to significantly increase its testing capacity, giving people greater confidence that should they need a test they can do so with relative ease.
NHS Test and Trace’s test site network now includes more than 800 test sites in operation, including 432 local test sites. The median distance now travelled for a test is around 2.4 miles, compared to some 5.1 miles back as recently as September.
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “NHS Test and Trace is delivering an essential and impressive service. It is truly extraordinary that a service that was only established last spring could now have contacted more than one million people in a single week, telling them to self-isolate and protect those around them.
“Although the rates of infection are continuing to rise, there can be no doubt that the rates would have increased by much more if NHS Test and Trace had not tested the 2.6 million people it provided tests to, or contacted such a large proportion of those who tested positive. I want to pay thanks to the efforts and dedication of everybody involved.
“While our testing capacity continues to grow as part of the government’s winter plan, NHS Test and Trace is also deploying hundreds of thousands of rapid tests to identify asymptomatic cases.
“Around 1 in 3 people with Covid-19 don’t display symptoms, meaning you can infect others unknowingly. It is therefore crucial that we continue to follow public health guidance, and all play our part by following the rules and reducing our social contact to slow the spread of the virus.”