Contact tracing Q&As

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What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is an established method to help prevent the further spread of infections such as COVID-19, and we are now using this approach to target potential clusters which could spark new outbreaks.

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How does contact tracing work?

Contact tracing works by identifying a confirmed case and asking them who they have been in contact with. Individual contacts are identified as being high risk, low risk or no risk. To be considered high risk you will have to have been in close contact with a confirmed case and have spent more than 15 minutes with them without any personal protection. This means that those who have casually passed by someone on the street will not be considered high risk. Contacts may also be people who have had the infection but were unaware of this because their symptoms were mild and they may have unwittingly spread infection. The person with a confirmed infection, and their ‘high risk’ contacts will be given advice on what to do about managing symptoms and of the need to self-isolate to prevent any wider spread of the virus.

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Is contact tracing effective?       

Contact tracing is an established public health measure for the control of infections such as COVID-19. If we know who the contacts of COVID-19 cases are it makes it possible to quickly find other people who may have become infected and we can then stop any further spread of the infection. Contact tracing has been a key part of the response in several countries that have successfully reduced case numbers.

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Contact tracing in practice

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How will people know it is the Contact Tracing Service ringing them?

When someone from the Contract Tracing Service rings, the call will come from a specific and consistent phone number – (028) 9536 8888. If the user calls back they will hear a recorded message that explains that the call came from the PHA and someone will try to get in touch again. We will also put the number on our public health websites. 

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What if the person who tests positive doesn’t have the phone number of a contact?

In the vast majority of cases, the positive case will have a landline, mobile or email address for their close contacts. In some instances they won’t, for example if they have come into contact with someone on public transport, which is where a proximity app will complement the contact tracing service.

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What arrangements do you have for people who don’t speak English as a first language?

We can utilise the HSC translation service. 

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What about people who may not wish to answer, or indeed may not have a phone, for example people with undetermined residency status?

We understand that some people will have very good reasons for not engaging with us – even though we only use this information for health protection and ultimately to help protect others.  We aim to work with trusted partners to help us explain the importance of the contract tracing service to break the chains of infection of the disease. 

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Will children be contacted directly, or through their parents?

Children will generally not be contacted directly – the information will be sought from their parents/ legal guardians.

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What if someone hasn’t capacity to self-isolate – will a next-of-kin be contacted and what impact does this have on the individual’s privacy?

If someone has a named individual responsible for their care, they will be engaged as would normally be the case with regard to medical treatments and advice.

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If you ring a landline, anyone could pick up – does that breach the contact’s privacy if you have to ask for them?

Identifying ourselves as being from the PHA and asking to speak to a contact is not, in itself, a breach of privacy.  This happens with other bodies such as banks or GP practices who ring a landline. 

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Are HSC workers going to be contact traced?

Yes, arrangements are in place in HSC Trusts for contact tracing for employees.

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How many people have been traced to date?

This information is updated weekly on the PHA website.

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