A major change to Covid-19 testing rules will come into place from today, January 11, as cases of the virus and the Omicron variant remain high. The UK’s official Covid death toll has passed 150,000
A new rule change comes into effect from today, as the government works on keeping on top of coronavirus case numbers.
There have been difficulties keeping track of case numbers in recent weeks due to shortages of lateral flow tests (LFTs) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
Despite this, case numbers have remained high and have reached record levels since the Omicron variant took a hold on the country.
The UK’s official Covid death toll passed 150,000 on Saturday January 8.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is currently drawing up plan for a “living with Covid” strategy, which aims to avoid any long-term restrictions in England from March this year.
The proposed rule changes may seem like a contradiction to some, so what are they and who do they affect?
What is the PCR test rule change?
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Currently, people who test positive for Covid with no symptoms on a lateral flow test are required to take a PCR to confirm their status. This will change from January 11.
They will still have to isolate for at least seven days, but only from the date of their positive lateral flow test.
Head of Imperial College London’s Department of Primary Care & Public Health, Professor Azeem Majeed told the i that the move is a “positive step”.
He said: “If you’re positive on lateral flow tests (LFTs) that’s almost certainly diagnostic of a Covid-19 infection in the current situation we’re in, as infection rates are so high.
“By not then having to take a PCR test, it takes pressure off the PCR testing system.”
What should I do if I have a positive LFT?
Anyone who tests positive for the virus through an LFT should report their status immediately.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has given guidance of how to do this and what will occur afterwards.
They said: “Under this new approach, anyone who receives a positive LFD test result should report their result on Gov.UK and must self-isolate immediately but will not need to take a follow-up PCR test.”
At the moment, isolation rules mean that a fully vaccinated person can stop isolating after seven days, proving they take a lateral flow test every day and are negative on days six and seven and have no symptoms.
A move to a five-day isolation period is now under consideration.
The PM told reporters today: “Yes of course, we are looking at that and we will act accordingly to the science as we always have.”
Is the change to testing permanent?
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The change brought in has been described as a temporary measure while cases remain high.
The UKHSA said: “This is a temporary measure while Covid-19 rates remain high across the UK. Whilst levels of Covid-19 are high, the vast majority of people with positive [LFT] results can be confident that they have Covid-19.
The idea is that while cases are in such high numbers, symptoms and a positive test are more likely than normal to indicate the virus.
Meanwhile, while case numbers are infrequent and low, a PCR test might be needed to show a positive infection.
“The new approach reflects similar changes made this time last year in January 2021, when there was also a high prevalence of infection meaning it was highly likely that a positive [LFT] Covid-19 result was a true positive. This meant confirmatory PCRs were temporarily paused and reintroduced in March 2021 following a reduction in prevalence.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.