People who test positive for Covid-19 will be encouraged to call those they may have infected and ask them to self-isolate, as part of a plan to use the “influence of friends” to increase compliance with the rules, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Officials are drawing up guidelines on “self-tracing”, to take place alongside the contact tracing work due to be undertaken by an army of 18,000 call handlers. If the initiative is successful, the NHS’s contact-tracing app could be updated so individuals can alert their friends through the official system.

Lord Bethell, the minister responsible for Covid-19 testing, told The Sunday Telegraph: “The feedback we get is that people want to help in the battle against Covid-19 and self-tracing gives them that chance to make a contribution and in a way that is trusted by their friends.”

The disclosure comes as medics applying for a role as part of the “top tier” of formal contract tracers were told to expect “stressful and difficult situations” as they inform people that they have tested positive for the disease and need to identify those with whom they have come into contact in recent days.

As part of the Government’s “test, track and trace” strategy, 18,000 call handlers, including 3,000 officials and medics, will contact people who test positive for Covid-19 to seek a list of everyone with whom they have come into significant contact. They are expected to contact each individual to ask them to seek a test and self-isolate while they wait for the result.

For those with the NHS App, automatic alerts will be sent to other app users with whom they have come into significant contact. But ministers and officials believe that asking people to contact friends and contacts themselves could prove more efficient in some cases, as well as increasing the likelihood that both those who have tested positive, and those consequently being asked to self isolate, will comply with the rules. They also believe that some people will be unwilling to hand over names and contact details of those they have met and would rather conduct the process themselves. The initiative would mirror the system currently in place when individuals test positive for sexually transmitted diseases and are asked to inform any previous partners who may be infected to seek treatment.

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