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For Equine Vets Everywhere

Contact Tracing Advice

As the country slowly eases out of the Covid-19 lockdown, contact tracing schemes have been reinstated as a major tool to break the chains of transmission of the coronavirus. Each of the devolved administrations of the UK has implemented slightly different schemes, however aims are similar, and the consequences could potentially have major implications to individual veterinary practices.

What is Contact Tracing

The basis of the schemes is that people who test positive for Covid-19 will be asked to identify other people who they have been in close contact with recently, and these people will be contacted and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

Details about the schemes can be found here:

England (NHS Test and Trace) Wales (Test Trace Protect) Scotland (Test and Protect) Northern Ireland (Test Trace Protect Support)

In essence, the schemes require that anyone who develops symptoms of Covid-19 (i.e. high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste) should self-isolate and get advice from the NHS 111 on-line coronavirus service for England, NHS inform in Scotland or NHS Direct Wales.

You should ask for a test within the first 5 days of showing symptoms. You can ask for the test on-line. 

If you test positive for coronavirus, then (in England), you'll get an email, text or call from the NHS Test and Trace service. You'll be asked where you've been recently and who you've been in close contact with.

Close contact includes:

  • Close face to face contact (under 1 metre) for any length of time – including talking to them or coughing on them
  • Being within 1 to 2 metres of each other for more than 15 minutes – including travelling in a small vehicle

The NHS will then contact people who have been in close contact with you.

People who are told they have been in contact with a person who has coronavirus will need to:

  • Stay at home (self-isolate) for 14 days from the day you were last in contact with the person
  • Do not leave your home for any reason
  • Do not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for essential care
  • Try to avoid contact with anyone you live with as much as possible
  • People you live with do not need to self-isolate if you do not have symptoms

Advice for Veterinary Practices

It is clear that the current Test and Trace schemes could potentially lead to entire veterinary practice teams being forced to self-isolate if just one team member contracts the virus, because of the necessity of vets and veterinary teams to work closely together in clinical practice. This could potentially lead to closure of veterinary practices with serious knock-on effects on animal welfare and veterinary business.

Steps that veterinary practices could take to mitigate the risks include:

  • Maintaining 2 metres social / physical distancing measures within teams as much as possible
  • Minimising the time that team members need to work within 1 to 2 metres of each other to less than 15 minutes
  • Dividing the workforce into smaller fixed teams so that not all team members come into contact with each other – where possible fixed teams of two people should be considered
  • Wearing appropriate PPE in situations where maintaining appropriate social distancing is not possible
  • Making arrangements with neighbouring practices to help and support each other when required

The BVA, with our support, has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care outlining our concerns about the contact tracing programmes, and asking the government to alter the system so that people working in a veterinary context are considered in a similar vein as those working in human healthcare settings, schools, and prisons. In the English system these are the ‘Tier 1’ calls, which are handled by local public health experts, thereby allowing for more nuanced discussions with people who would understand our clinical ways of working and how to assess the level of risk if a contact has been with colleagues who have been wearing PPE. We are also asking for veterinary professionals to be amongst those who are prioritised for access to the additional testing as it is rolled out. This would enable those who are self- isolating but not infected to get out of self-isolation quickly and return to the practice rota.