Almost three full months after the World Health Organisation announced Covid-19 as a pandemic and urged countries to "test, test, test", the Public Health Agency today officially launches its contact tracing programme.

The establishment of the new initiative comes alongside a pledge to provide a Covid-19 test for anyone who requests it. 

Said Health Minister Robin Swann: 

“My Department has also now published its Test, Trace and Protect strategy, setting out our approach in detail. This is a major long-term programme, given the continuing threat from Covid-19 and the potential for local clusters and outbreaks of infection as we move out of the current phase of our response.

“We will be scaling up the current contact tracing provision to include teams recruited directly to staff the operation. This will include professionals such as nurses and Environmental Health Officers for contact tracing with lead clinicians and health protection consultants advising on complex situations and local clusters or outbreaks. The work will be supported through the deployment of trained volunteers when required.

ON CALL: Staff at the Belfast Contact Tracing unit. Photos by Thomas McMullan.
ON CALL: Staff at the Belfast Contact Tracing unit. Photos by Thomas McMullan.

Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by the Contact Tracing Service in the Public Health Agency, and will need to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or been within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes.

People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has had a positive test must stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop unknowingly spreading the virus.  This is because people without any symptoms can spread the infection.