Is there any guidance for local authorities and their powers to enforce contact tracing regarding the new National Health Service coronavirus (COVID-19) app?

Is there any guidance for local authorities and their powers to enforce contact tracing regarding the new National Health Service coronavirus (COVID-19) app?

Produced in partnership with Katherine Illsley of 4 King’s Bench Walk

The UK government is rolling out contact tracing as part of its strategy to test, track and trace the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and, as much as possible, to minimise that spread. If someone tests positive for coronavirus symptoms, they will be contacted by text, email or telephone by the National Health Service (NHS), and asked to use the NHS Test and Trace website to provide personal details in addition to the names and contact details of people they have been in close contact with in the 48 hours before symptoms started.

Once the person who has tested positive for symptoms has provided the requested contact details of their close contacts, the NHS will then get in touch with those contacts and advise them to self-isolate for 14 days. The identity of the person who has tested positive for coronavirus symptoms will not be disclosed to the contacts.

A smartphone app is currently being trialed in the Isle of Wight which sends an alert to anyone who has come into close contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus symptoms. It is anticipated that the app will be rolled out in around mid June, but it is not yet widely available.

Compliance with the instruction to self-isolate is currently voluntary. The Department of Health has said that if people fail to comply with the request to self-isolate, tougher measures may be introduced such as home visits and the issuing of fines, but so far those measures have not been introduced. The government has also indicated that it could impose geographically targeted measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This could take the form of putting specific cities in lockdown where there has been a spike in those testing positive for coronavirus.

For the moment, there is no power to enforce compliance with the request to self-isolate pursuant to track and tracing technology, and therefore, there is no guidance on how to use such powers that the writer is aware of. Similarly, there is no guidance at present on how geographically targeted lockdowns might be enforced. The government has indicated that a national joint biosecurity centre will work with local authorities to identify localised outbreaks and support effective local responses. Guidance is available on the powers available to local authorities pursuant to the Coronavirus Act 2020 (CA 2020). More general guidance on coronavirus testing can be found here. You may also find this government guidance useful.

See Practice Note: Coronavirus (COVID-19)—healthcare tracker.

Although not directly arising from the NHS contract tracing app itself, you may find the summary of powers created by CA 2020 to detain potentially infectious people, contained in Practice Note: Coronavirus (COVID-19)—powers to detain potentially infectious people, of assistance.

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