Test and Protect
Testing and contact tracing remain core components of our strategic approach to suppressing the virus. The Test and Protect system has allowed us to identify positive cases and break chains of transmission in Scotland and it is crucial that we continue to do this.
We are already increasing the accessibility of testing, through the expansion of testing capacity and infrastructure, but also through increasing targeted community testing and widening the approach to testing workers in key sectors, for example in healthcare and educational settings.
We have scaled up testing capacity so that Scotland currently has a total weekday testing capacity of over 80,000 PCR tests - (testing capacity at time of publication. The number of tests that can be carried out may fluctuate due to operational capacity) - 35,000 NHS Scotland and 45,000 share of UKG capacity, facilitated by the creation of three regional testing hubs in Scotland. We intend to continue to expand the national sampling infrastructure to increase access to testing so that 95% of the population will be within a 30 minute drive of testing and that the proportion of the population within walking distance of a walk-through site will double to 36%.
When close contacts of positive cases are identified through contact tracing, those contacts are now being advised to book a test as well as to self-isolate. This means that we will be able to detect more positive cases, contact trace those cases and break more chains of transmission.
We announced on 2 February that we are also making use of expanded lateral flow testing capacity to support a further expansion of asymptomatic testing, including deploying a schools testing programme for staff and senior phase pupils in support of a safe return to schools. We are also expanding workplace asymptomatic testing to support the safe operation of essential services such as emergency service control rooms. In addition we are expanding the use of regular testing to strengthen protection around the most vulnerable groups, for example by routine testing for those healthcare workers in primary care roles, hospice staff and social care services. We will continue to expand asymptomatic testing in a way that is informed by our developing understanding of the impact of the vaccination programme. This will include providing sustainable testing in settings, including within private sector businesses, which are the highest risk - with regular testing now being introduced for higher risk businesses in the food production and food distribution sectors in Scotland.. While testing is another important component of our defence against the virus, it is still important that all workforces continue to follow all other workplace guidance, including all mitigations, even where testing is taking place.
Alongside these efforts to test people whose work potentially puts them or others at risk, we will expand targeted community testing – this makes testing available to everybody in a local area regardless of whether they have symptoms. This plays a particularly valuable role in communities where prevalence is stubbornly high or starting to rise again. Where community testing has been deployed it has been successful in finding cases that would otherwise not be identified. As we expand this tool, we will ensure that targeted community testing includes clear information on the support that is provided for self-isolation, both to enable self-isolation if that is required, but also, critically, to reduce any deterrent to engagement in community testing which may be caused by concern over the financial consequences of a positive result.
Using this targeted and sustainable approach to testing will help to control the virus in the most effective way and allow us to reduce restrictions and open the economy in a more sustainable way, when the time is right.
As well as its role in breaking chains of transmission, testing also provides information and data which will be crucial to monitoring the impact of the vaccination programme and understanding the movement and mutations of the virus. Genomic sequencing of samples is being used to identify and track potentially significant genetic changes that may affect how easily the virus is passed on and the severity of the symptoms it causes. This allows us to target public health interventions to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants of potential concern and ensure that the tests we use remain fit for purpose. We will also continue community surveillance which allows us to monitor the prevalence of the virus within the community and respond rapidly to evidence of spikes or new outbreaks of the virus.
Most effective use of testing and contact tracing
- increasing accessibility of testing, both in terms of expanding capacity infrastructure and geographical reach
- regularly testing secondary care healthcare workers and have expanded this to cover primary care workers in patient-facing roles and staff who work directly with patients in hospices
- delivering a schools asymptomatic testing programme in support of a safe return
- expanding workplace asymptomatic testing to support the safe operation of essential services such as emergency service control rooms
- working with businesses in higher transmission risk sectors, such as in food production and distribution to introduce routine testing for their workforces
- expanding targeted community testing in areas of persistently high infection
- enhancing our contact tracing approach to advise close contacts of a person who has tested positive to get tested themselves, as well as to self-isolate - to identify more positive cases and close contacts
- continuing surveillance of outbreaks and increasing the use of genomic sequencing for priority areas such as international arrivals, cases of vaccine failure and where there is high risk of new mutations
- utilising wider data sources, including wastewater data, to support targeted interventions