A NEW system for testing and tracing suspected coronavirus cases will be launched on Thursday to pave the way for easing lockdown restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said the new “test and protect” strategy would enable anyone with Covid symptoms to be tested and informed so that they could self-isolate for a week.

Close contacts of people testing positive would in turn be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

She said Scotland now had the ability to conduct 15,000 tests a day, and new software across all 14 regional health boards to assist in contact tracing.

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The Scottish Government set itself a target of having 2000 contract tracing staff in place by the end of May.

However Ms Sturgeon said the initial workforce would be around 700, and this would be scaled up to match demand.

She said a pool of 2000 people, more than 1600 of them current and returning NHS staff, would be available by June if required.

The Scottish Tories said the plan risked being rendered “meaningless” if the Scottish Government continued to miss its testing targets and failed to use all its capacity.

At the Scottish Government daily briefing, the First Minister said the system would “operate at a scale not seen before in Scotland” and take a few weeks to bed in. 

She said starting it as Scotland moves into lighter lockdown restrictions this week should provide time to iron out any problems before more substantial changes next month.

She stressed that the system would only work if people did what was required and self-isolated after developing symptoms or being identified as a close contact.

“It can’t be seen as optional,” she said.

She urged people with any coronavirus symptom - cough, fever, or loss of taste or smell - not to delay seeking a test, but to call NHS24 on 0800 028 2816 or request a test online at nhsinform.scot without waiting to see if they got better.

She said people testing positive would be asked to provide names of people they had been in contact with face-to-face, who lived in their household, or who they had been with for 15 minutes or more at less than two metres.

Those contacted would not be told the name of the person who tested positive in order to protect their privacy.

She said employers should not ask people self-isolating to go into work, but they could be asked to work from home if able to do so.

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Ms Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government has been in touch with the UK Government to ensure employment rights and benefits, including statutory sick pay, took account of  people being “off work or unable to attend appointments through no fault of their own".

Being asked to isolate in this way is "something that over the months ahead could happen to any of us on more than one occasion", Ms Sturgeon said.

"Your privacy will be respected at all times during this process," she added, saying the information of tested persons will not be accessible by the Scottish Government and will be handled within the NHS.

Asked about the risk of unsolicited phone calls from fraudsters posing as contact tracers, Ms Sturgeon said: "We are taking steps at every stage here to protect people's privacy and to make sure there is security.

"We will make sure that we give more details about exactly what those steps are, both in terms of the people giving the information about contact tracers and the people who are being contacted by a contact tracer, in terms of the steps that will be taken to ensure verification of identity."

The Scottish Tories said Ms Sturgeon’s pledge on testing would be “meaningless” unless the Government made full use of capacity, after previously failing to do so.

The party said daily tests rarely hit 50 per cent of capacity, with only 4742 carried out on Sunday, well short of the 10,000 aim, a target the Scottish Government has yet to hit. 

Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Nicola Sturgeon could have as large a testing capacity as she likes – but it won’t matter a bit if people aren’t actually being tested.

“Every day the SNP government falls well short of the target to test 10,000 a day, and more often than not misses that target by half.

“That leaves thousands of care home residents, workers and their families untested, and that’s why we’re seeing such a crisis in these facilities.

“The SNP government just hasn’t done enough to get the tests out to those who need it most.

“Exiting lockdown will be dependent on this test, trace and isolate system, and we very much want that to succeed.

“But until the issue of testing is sorted, there is little hope that it will.”