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NHS Test and Trace: Guidance for UK businesses

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on UK SMEs. As restrictions slowly begin to lift, businesses are eager to move forward and get back to work.

The NHS Test and Trace service forms a central part of the Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy. It aims to help people safely return to workplaces and normal life as soon as possible.

Launched on 28th May, the service will play a vital role in providing an early warning if COVID-19 activity is increasing locally, regionally or nationally.

The guidance below explains how employers and businesses can take part in the NHS Test and Trace programme and use it alongside government guidance on returning to work in a safe way.

NHS Test and Trace is designed to support businesses and economic recovery by:

  • Helping to stop the virus spreading throughout workplaces and wider society, so fewer people develop COVID-19 and have to self-isolate
  • Enabling the Government to go further in safely easing or lifting lockdown measures, allowing the nation to return to normal as quickly as possible

By following this guidance, employers can reduce the risk of co-workers having to self-isolate if a member of staff tests positive for COVID-19.

What is the NHS Test and Trace service and how does it work?

The NHS Test and Trace service allows the Government to trace the spread of the virus and isolate new infections. It also provides warning signs if the virus’s infection rate increases again.

From now on, a member of the NHS Test and Trace team will contact anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and ask them to share information about who they might have recently interacted with.

How it works:

Isolation: As soon as you experience COVID-19 symptoms:

  • You must self-isolate for at least seven days
  • Anyone else in your household must self-isolate for 14 days

Test: Once your symptoms become apparent, you should order a test immediately. You can do this through www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119. There are now a number of ways to be tested, including:

  • Drive-through regional testing sites
  • Mobile testing units
  • Test kits delivered to your home
  • Hospital-based testing for NHS patients and staff
  • Dedicated testing centres in other care settings (for example, care homes)

Results: If you test positive for COVID-19, the NHS Test and Trace service will use contact tracing staff, online services and local public health experts to:

  • Identify who you’ve recently had contact with
  • Tell the people most at risk of having the virus that they need to self-isolate

The Government will launch its NHS COVID-19 app in the coming weeks to complement this service.

Alert: The NHS Test and Trace service will alert you if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The alert will usually come by text, email or phone call. 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.

The role of employers

Employers need to make their workplaces as safe as possible, both by encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and by supporting them when in isolation. To help employers fulfil this important role, the Government has developed five steps for working safely.

Businesses must also continue to follow health and safety workplace guidance for their particular sector. This includes:

  • Encouraging and enabling working from home as a first option
  • Where home-working isn’t an option, identifying reasonable measures to control risks in the workplace
  • Maintaining restrictions that keep employees safely apart
  • Keeping the workplace clean and preventing transmission through unnecessary touching of potentially contaminated surfaces

The social distancing measures employers put in place will depend on individual circumstances such as their working environment, the size of the site and the number of workers. While this guidance helps employers make an informed decision, the NHS Test and Trace service doesn’t supersede the existing guidance about working from home.

Supporting employees who need to self-isolate

Outlined below are the steps that employers should take if an employee has symptoms and tests positive for COVID-19:

  • Step 1: The employee must self-isolate. They will receive a notification from the NHS Test and Trace service, which they can use as evidence that they have been told to do this.
  • Step 2: The employer must allow the employee to work from home while self-isolating and support them in doing so. If the employee is unable to work from home, the employer must ensure they are receiving sick pay and give them the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer.
  • Step 3: If the employee has been to the workplace, all co-workers must be alerted. The NHS Test and Trace service will text, email or phone each co-worker and provide instructions on how to share details of people they have had close, recent contact with.

Reminder: Employees who are self-isolating are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions.

Supporting employers with a workplace outbreak

If a workplace has a number of cases of COVID-19, the business should first seek advice from its local authority. In most situations, a team from either the local authority or Public Health England will be assigned to help the business manage the outbreak.

Guidance for the self-employed

If you’re self-employed, you must continue to work from home if you can. If you’re unable to, you must consider how you can observe government guidance on social distancing when meeting people such as customers and suppliers.

Should you or someone in your household develops COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for the virus, you’ll be told to self-isolate by the Test and Trace service. You’ll also need to self-isolate if the NHS Test and Trace service instructs you to do so because you’ve had close recent contact with someone who has COVID-19.

If your business has been adversely affected by COVID-19, you may be eligible for a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

 The NHS COVID-19 App

The Government is currently trialling its NHS COVID-19 app, which will form part of the NHS Test and Trace service. The app will help speed up contact tracing and allow the service to alert people who are otherwise unreachable (for example, strangers seated beside you on public transport).

For more information on the app, visit the NHS website.

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