Coronavirus (COVID-19): Contact tracing

Contact tracing is a process for identifying people at risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection because they‘ve been physically close enough to a person who has tested positive. These people will be given advice to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Contact tracing is a well-established public health intervention. Health protection teams have a lot of experience delivering contact tracing for a range of infectious diseases.

Contact tracing is part of the national Test and Protect approach to containing the virus.

Test and Protect

Test and Protect is a public health measure designed to interrupt the spread of coronavirus in the community by:

  • identifying people who have the virus
  • tracing those who have been in close contact with an infected person for a long enough period of time to be at risk of infection
  • supporting these close contacts to self-isolate, so that if they have the virus they are less likely to transmit it to others

It will help to gradually change the restrictions so we can avoid a return to lockdown.

More about Test and Protect from the Scottish Government

How contact tracing works

Everyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be put in touch with their local contact tracing team or the National Contact Tracing Service to help identify who they’ve been in close contact with.

If you have tested positive, contact tracers will:

  • contact you by phone or text message – there’s no need to log in to a website
  • ask you who you live with, who you have been physically close to recently and where you have been
  • decide which of these people might be infected based on how long they spent with you and how physically close they were
  • contact these people to tell them to isolate for 14 days

If you are contacted because you’re considered to be at risk you will not be told the identity of the infected person unless they have given permission for their name to be shared.

At the start of Test and Protect, not every person with a positive test will be contacted. If you have tested positive you and everyone in your household should follow our guidance for households with possible infection.

The contact tracer service operates between 8.00am and 8.00pm, 7 days a week.

Real or a scam?

NHS Scotland contact tracers will: 

  • in some cases, send a text to let you know that you will be receiving a call from NHS Scotland  (if mobile is available) 
  • call from a single, national telephone number - 0800 030 8012 
  • always introduce themselves, tell you why they are contacting you and address you by your name 
  • give you the option to call back the above number to provide reassurance that the service is legitimate 

They will never ask you: 

  • for information other than your movements and the people you have been physically close to 
  • to phone a premium rate number 
  • to make a purchase, payment or donation  
  • for your medical history unrelated to coronavirus 
  • for your bank details 
  • for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts  
  • for your passwords or PIN numbers, or to set up any 
  • for control of your computer, smartphone or tablet, or to download anything 
  • to visit a website that does not belong to NHS Scotland or the Scottish Government 

If you test positive 

If you have had a positive test you should self-isolate for 10 days from the date your symptoms started or the date your test was done if you have no symptoms. The people you live with should also isolate for 14 days from this date.

Anyone required to isolate should follow our guidance for households with possible infection.

Follow this advice even if you haven’t been contacted by the contact tracing service so far.

People in an extended household with someone who has tested positive

If you have formed an extended household, members of that household should isolate for 14 days from the most recent date they had contact with you during your infectious period.

If someone in your extended household develops symptoms, the whole extended household should isolate immediately, even before the symptomatic person gets a test, if they had contact with the symptomatic person 2 days before and up to 7 days after their symptoms started. 

If the symptomatic person tests positive, all members of the extended household who do not generally live with the case must continue to isolate for 14 days from when the most recent contact took place. Isolate means staying in your own home for the full 14 days.

Close contacts of someone who has tested positive

You are considered to be a close contact if you:

  • have been informed by an NHS contact tracer that you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive
  • live with a person who has symptoms or has tested positive

If you’re a close contact but do not live with the person who has tested positive or in an extended household with them, isolate at home for 14 days from the last day you had contact. You will be told what day this was. 

You need to do this even if you have tested negative as you could still be incubating the virus.

During isolation, you should physically distance yourself from other unexposed people in your home. You should be especially mindful of any vulnerable individuals. 

Others in your household do not need to isolate as long as you have no symptoms.

If you haven't developed symptoms after 14 days you can come out of isolation but should continue to follow physical distancing measures.

More about isolation timelines is available through the Scottish Government.

If you develop symptoms

If you develop symptoms while self-isolating, isolate for 10 days from the day your symptoms started and arrange to be tested. You should do this even if it takes you over the 14-day isolation period.

The rest of your household should isolate for 14 days from the day your symptoms started. Everyone in your household should follow our guidance for households with possible infection.

All other extended household members who had contact with the symptomatic person 2 days before their symptoms started or up to 7 days after their symptoms started should isolate for 14 days, even if they don’t have symptoms themselves. The 14-day period starts from the last time they were in contact with the symptomatic person.

If your test is positive, contact tracers will get in touch to identify your close contacts. You and your household should remain isolated whilst waiting for the test result.

If your test is negative, you should continue to isolate for the full 14 days as you could still be infectious.

The rest of your household don’t need to continue isolation unless you develop new symptoms and are tested again. Your household should isolate whilst awaiting the test result.

If your symptoms are severe

Phone NHS 24 (111) if your symptoms are severe at the start or worsen during isolation. Phone 999 if you have a medical emergency. Tell them you are a contact of a person confirmed as having coronavirus when phoning.

Get an isolation note to give to your employer

You can send an isolation note to your employer as proof you need to stay off work because you’ve been told you're a close contact and need to isolate.

You don’t need to get a note from a GP. 

Get an isolation note

Protect Scotland app

The free NHS Scotland Protect Scotland app has been designed to help us protect each other, reduce the spread of coronavirus and avoid further lockdowns.

While keeping your information private and anonymous. the app will:

  • alert you if you have been in close contact with another app user who tests positive for coronavirus
  • help to determine contacts that you may have otherwise missed if you test positive

Find out more about the Protect Scotland app or download it through the App Store and Google Play.

Further information