In the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, public health officials worked swiftly to find methods of tracking the transmission of the virus.
Contact tracing was already used previously to track the spread of infectious diseases – albeit on a much smaller scale.
Health chiefs and government officials acted quickly to set up what would become known as Test and Protect, tracking down close contacts of those who had tested positive for Covid-19.
That involved hiring and training hundreds of people with the right skills to find people who could be carrying the virus.
“Contact tracing is something we use all the time in public health,” said NHS Grampian’s director of public health Dr Susan Webb.
“The best way of containing an infection is to reduce opportunities for it to transmit.
“That means identifying close contacts, supporting them to isolate, monitoring symptoms and supporting them to get tested. What has been different to H1N1 for example is we have been impacted to a much greater degree.
“We have had to scale up our efforts quickly and that meant we had to stand down a lot of public health effort quite quickly and really focus our attention on Covid.”
The tracking and testing method has evolved over the last year to become more efficient, including the introduction of new digital systems.
“In the early days testing and tracing was very different to what it is now,” Susan said.
“We have a range of testing programmes now, and we weren’t testing on the same scale.
“We continue to evolve and expand that even today because it is a really big element of the role. Setting up contact tracing, we worked really closely with our military liaison officers and we used a tactical operating model. That means if the number of cases reached X, we needed Y contact tracers and so on.
“We set up a process where we trained individuals who had the right skills. We trained around 200 individuals in those early days and supported them through early conversations with our communities.”
In the early days, the lessons learned from other countries around the world were vital in preparing for an influx of cases in the north-east.
“Quite early on it was clear the virus was circulating within our community,” Susan said.
“None of us predicted the impact Covid would have in terms of the national lockdown – that wasn’t where we thought we would get to.
“Our absolute focus was on contact tracing and driving circulating virus to a minimum.
“We also had to learn how to deal with some new scenarios we hadn’t seen before, and keep up to date with all the international learning because that gave us an indication of what might happen here.
“It taught us a lot about the potential impact on our health and care services.”
Read more from our Covid One Year On series here: