The COVID-19 crisis is, as everyone can agree, unprecedented in its effects. Everyday lives, businesses and more besides are being impacted. The government, too, has needed to bring in a variety of emergency reliefs and services to support British people. One of these services to emerge in recent times is that of an additional helpline – alongside the 111 NHS service – to help people with any concerns regarding COVID-19.
With speculation riding high over the weeks and months, it was recently confirmed by the government that anyone concerned that they may have the novel coronavirus can now contact a specialist line for advice and testing. This, it seems, may help to alleviate pressure on the 111 service. 111, of course, is a unique prefix and line reserved for non-emergency health calls, itself a pressure reliever from the 999 service.
But what exactly does 119 do – and why should people call? When should you call 119, and not 111 or 999? It’s less confusing than it all seems, and we are here to break it all down for you.
Following immense pressure to increase testing and to broaden tests to the wider public, the British government has now opened up COVID-19 testing across the board to UK citizens. This means that it is now possible to either call for a test, or to book one online, if you feel that you are at risk of the coronavirus.
119 is the helpline number which was quietly released by the government recently, alongside a track and trace system, and plans for an app to let you check who has registered with COVID-19 symptoms in your area. At the time of writing, the app is still under trial in the Isle of Wight – but 119 is free for anyone to call who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
This new, public testing comes after weeks of trials and research. Previously, testing was only available to specific individuals and those in key working capacities. New testing capabilities available to the public will allow NHS workers off sick from work, for example, to test themselves and to see if they can return to the frontline.
With thousands of retired NHS staff having been brought back into the fold to help care for COVID-19 demands, and with thousands more volunteers helping the fight, the service is going to need as many capable hands as it can get.
Should I Call 119?
It’s important to stress that the 119 prefix is completely new and is only reserved for COVID-19 queries and test booking at present. This means that all other health concerns should travel via 111 or 999, depending entirely on the level of urgency.
It is still important that people self-isolate if they feel they have symptoms correlating with the coronavirus emerging. The main symptoms people should look for include a loss of taste and smell, as well as a continuous, rolling cough which has suddenly taken effect. A high temperature, too, is likely to be a key indicator of COVID-19 contraction.
Any concerns surrounding illness or COVID-19 will be handled via 119, which will also be the central hub to call if you feel you need to book a test.
It is important to call 119 if you are experiencing symptoms concurrent with COVID-19, or to speak to 111 if you are witnessing other symptoms. In any case, despite recent lockdown measures easing, it is imperative that you self-isolate to prevent the spread of the disease.
What Else is the Government Doing?
The emergence of the new 119 line is a positive step in the right direction when it comes to monitoring and managing the ongoing threat of COVID-19. However, it is not the only measure the government is launching in a bid to curb further damage done. The government has, for example, recruited over 21,000 contact tracers, who will work to help build a network to find who may have had the virus, and who may have been in close contact with others.
The government also offers an online service, available at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus – where you can book a test online with the NHS. However, to ensure that tests remain available for the most vulnerable, it is important to carefully consider your symptoms before moving ahead.
Alongside 119, the government’s maiden tracing app is yet to emerge in the mainstream – however, should the trial be successful, we may be seeing the program emerge for phones and tablets in the weeks and months to come.
Tracing and controlling COVID-19 has proven difficult for government bodies and more besides. The fact that the virus is such an unknown entity is continuing to drive stress up and down the country. However, the new 119 number should hopefully help to ease plenty of concerns over whether or not people have the condition or not.
The Future of 119
To ease pressure on 119 – particularly as it is so new – the government’s main websites suggest that you should always try and book a test through the web portal in the first instance. However, of course, if you are certain that you have symptoms which correlate with the virus, it is essential that you call someone for support in the first instance.
Crucially, 119 exists to help add another wing of support and care for those who may be most at risk of contracting and falling seriously ill with the virus. However, it is still a long road ahead before anything effective can bring COVID-19 to its knees.
119 is likely to stay open as a dedicated support line. However, there is nothing to say that these number prefixes can’t or won’t open up to broader services in future. For now, at the very least, they must remain in place to help tackle the continuing, devastating effects the virus are bestowing on the public.
If you do feel that you are developing COVID-19 symptoms, you must make sure to self-isolate, and call the relevant government / NHS number as soon as you can.