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UK launches test and trace program under new normal of COVID-19 pandemic

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-05-28 10:29
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Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a daily news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain May 27, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

LONDON - The British government announced Wednesday that the country's coronavirus test and trace system will be up and running from Thursday as part of the efforts to contain the pandemic.

To break the chain of transmission, people in England who has been in close contact with someone who has been infected with COVID-19 will be asked from Thursday to isolate for 14 days even if they have no symptoms, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Chairing Wednesday's Downing Street daily briefing, Hancock said until an effective treatment or vaccine comes through, the test and trace program is a big part of how the country moves forward out of lockdown.

"The instructions are clear: if you get symptoms, isolate and get a test. If you get a call from an NHS (National Health Service) contact tracer, you must isolate," said Hancock.

This will be voluntary at first but can be made mandatory if that's what it takes, said the secretary.

It is people's "civic duty" to isolate themselves if they are contacted by an NHS contact-tracer from 9 am (0800 GMT) Thursday, he added.

During the briefing, he announced a further expansion of coronavirus testing, with under-five-year-old now eligible, which means that everyone in Britain who is symptomatic -- no matter their age -- is now eligible for a COVID-19 test.

Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Commons Liaison Committee that people should be aware of why the program was needed, warning that fines could be introduced for people who fail to comply.

"We will be asking people to stay at home. If they don't follow that advice, what we will be saying is we will consider what sanctions may be necessary," he told the committee.

Meanwhile, another 412 COVID-19 patients have died in Britain as of Tuesday afternoon, bringing the total coronavirus-related death toll in the country to 37,460, the Department of Health and Social Care said Wednesday.

The figures include deaths in all settings, including hospitals, care homes and the wider community.

As of Wednesday morning, 267,240 people have tested positive in Britain, a daily increase of 2,013, according to the department.

Also on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokesperson said the government remains confident of hitting the 200,000 target for testing capacity by Monday, as 117,013 tests have been done on Tuesday.

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