Nicola Sturgeon has warned that people may be asked to self-isolate themselves repeatedly once ministers introduce a new “test, trace, isolate” policy after the coronavirus lockdown eases.
The Scottish government published a new policy paper (pdf) on how it will tackle future Covid-19 infections during later phases of the pandemic, which will focus heavily on “early and effective” identification of new cases through testing, and then tracking down and isolating other people in contact with infected people.
The paper said Scottish labs would need to conduct at least 15,500 tests a day, to cover about 2% of the population. The NHS would also need to find and train 2,000 additional people to specialise in contact tracing.
The document said the new “test, trace, isolate, support” strategy would underpin the post-lockdown approach, alongside all existing measures such as social distancing, good hygiene such as regular hand washing, use of face-coverings in crowded public places and disease surveillance.
It was “designed to help us interrupt chains of transmission in the community by identifying cases of Covid-19, tracing the people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with them, and then supporting those close contacts to self-isolate, so that if they have the disease they are less likely transmit to it to others.”
Anyone would had been closer than two metres from an infected person for 15 minutes or more would be required to self-isolate for 14 days, the document said.
Testing capacity would need to expand dramatically to cope: Scotland’s daily testing potential would hit 8,000 samples a day by mid-May, with another 4,000 tests a day done at the UK government’s Lighthouse laboratory at Glasgow university.
The first minister warned this would, in effect, become the new normal. It would be effective once community transmission rates were at a much lower level than at present, she indicated.
It is important to stress that ‘test, trace, isolate, support’ will be most effective when levels of infection are low – lower than now – and stay low, and that its success relies on all of us knowing and agreeing what to do if we have symptoms, and being prepared to self-isolate when advised to do so.
This will not be easy. In this next phase, we will be asking people to self-isolate, not for their own benefit, and not because we know for certain that they have contracted the disease, but in order to protect others in case they have.
People may face self-isolation not just once, but on repeat occasions.