The new test and trace scheme is being launched in England and Scotland today, in an attempt to move from blanket lockdown restrictions to more localised, targeted measures.
Under the scheme, anyone who has symptoms of the virus should arrange to have a test. If the test comes back positive, they will be asked who they have had contact with in the two days before, and up to seven days after, the symptoms appeared. Any of those contacts deemed at risk of infection will be told to isolate for 14 days, even if they are not sick and even if they have already had the virus.
That’s all very well, but what if you are one of the contacts told to self-isolate but your job cannot be done at home in isolation? What happens about your salary?
The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) regulations already state that a person who is self-isolating is deemed to be incapable of work. These regulations have today been extended to cover those who have been advised that they have been in contact with a person infected with coronavirus and have been asked to stay at home.
This means that those instructed to self-isolate under the track and trace system will be eligible for SSP. But that is only £95.85 per week. If someone has just returned to work after a period of furlough leave, they may already be struggling financially and a further reduction in pay will be unsustainable. While a small number of businesses may offer additional company sick pay on top of SSP, the vast majority simply can’t afford to pay employees in full when they are not working.
This has led to calls for the government to introduce "enhanced" sick pay, with the TUC suggesting it be raised to £260 a week.
The Chancellor has pulled a number of rabbits out of his hat over the last few months, but this may be a step too far. If so, given recent events, how many people will ignore instructions to self-isolate in order to protect their income?
Tracers will text, email or call people who test positive with coronavirus and ask who they have had contact with. Any of those contacts deemed at risk of infection will be told to isolate for 14 days, even if they are not sick.