The adoption of “test, track and trace” could enable the coronaviruslockdown measures to be eased, Matt Hancock has said.
Speaking at the daily Covid-19 press conference at Downing Street on Thursday, the Health Secretary said that the infrastructure was being put in place so that contact tracing could be rolled out on a large scale.
While he resisted demands for more transparency over how the lockdown would end, he said that testing, tracking and tracing could be key in allowing "lesser" social-distancing rules.
It comes as the UK death toll nears 19,000 while the Government face pressure to layout an exit strategy to lockdown.
Mr Hancock told reporters: “Test, track and trace, done effectively, can help to suppress the transmission in a way that allows you then to have lesser rules.
“Critically, test, track and trace works more effectively when the rate of new cases is lower.
Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England Professor John Newton (PA)
“So, the lower the rate of new cases, the more effectively you can keep it down using test, track and trace rather than having to use heavier social-distancing measures.”
He said the Government is also introducing "large-scale" infrastructure for contact tracing in the UK. He added that some 18,000 people are being employed to help in the tracing efforts.
“As we look ahead, this is critical to keep the virus under control,” he said.
NHS works wearing PPE (File photo) (PA)
The Health Secretary then referred to a new NHS contact-tracing app was undergoing testing.
Anyone who became unwell with coronavirus symptoms would be able to inform the NHS through the app, which would then inform other users they had had significant contact with.
Mr Hancock also said on Thursday that testing was also being used to establish how many people have and have had coronavirus.
“These are critical pieces of information to inform our battle against this novel virus,” he said.
Initially, 25,000 people would take part, with plans to expand it to 300,000 over the next 12 months.
Participants will provide regular samples taken from self-administered swabs and answer a few short questions.
He said letters had started to go out and appealed to anyone asked to become involved to do so.
The Government is working towards the target of 100,000 tests a day (AP)
“The early signs from today are that there is huge enthusiasm from those who have received letters taking part in this survey,” he said.
Mr Hancock later resisted demands for more transparency about how the lockdown would be ended.
He said: “I understand the thirst for knowledge. The tests that we have set out, which are the basis from which others – for instance the Scottish Government – have then developed their plans, those tests are the critical tests for when changes can be made.
“Of course, monitoring what is happening and making sure that we move at the right time is absolutely critical.
“But the message remains the same – that people need to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.
“The reason that we have clarity on that message is that it has succeeded in bringing down and flattening the curve, but we are not through that yet and there’s an awful lot of work that still needs to be done, and we are absolutely determined to avoid a second peak.”