PCR tests ‘will be axed today’ for millions of people who get Covid to shorten isolation

The government looks set to announce plans to axe the follow-up PCR test for people with no symptoms, who test positive by a lateral flow test

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Gillian Keegan on whether PCR confirmatory tests could be dropped

Britain’s Covid testing rules look set to be relaxed as soon as today in a bid to ease shortages of critical workers – and chaos in the test system.

Ministers are looking at plans to axe follow-up PCR tests for people who test positive by lateral flow, but have no symptoms.

Instead of waiting for a PCR result, these people – said to account for around 40% of people with Covid – will have to isolate for at least seven days from the date of their positive lateral flow.

Because it takes time to get a PCR test, this will effectively shorten the isolation period for millions of people by a day or two.

It will also ease the demand for PCR tests.

Health Minister Gillian Keegan said she did not have any “official news”, after multiple newspapers reported the move will be announced today.

But she strongly hinted at the move, telling BBC Breakfast: “I know the teams are looking at testing and testing regimes.

A nurse administers a PCR test on a woman at Dimensions Leisure Centre in Stoke-on-Trent



“We’ve introduced so many lateral flow tests now, and they’re very accurate, they’re really accurate in people who are infectious. So I guess they’re looking at the regimes all the time in terms of what makes sense.

“I don’t have any official news, but the teams will announce it once they have come to their conclusions.

“You may be able to expect some news, I don’t know when.”

She also told Sky News: “I would imagine that because we’re doing so many lateral flow tests, obviously they keep under review all the time what value add PCR tests are giving.”

However, she urged people to “do the right thing” and register their result whether it is positive or negative.

Concerns are rising that staff absences have become as big an issue as the virus itself after 17 Greater Manchester hospitals announced they were halting non-urgent surgeries.

Bin collections are also being delayed, while trains have been cancelled and school leaders say they are preparing for online lessons to resume in the near future as children’s education suffers.

It is understood only those with symptoms will be required to wait for a PCR test


Getty Images)

Ms Keegan confirmed “about a million” people are currently in isolation after testing positive in the last week.

The wait for a PCR result means many will be effectively isolating longer than the permitted seven days, which was last month slashed from 10. People can leave isolation on day seven if they test negative by lateral flow on days six and seven.

The Government’s booking site has repeatedly ran out of slots, while supply of LFTs was struggling to keep up with growing demand, particularly during the festive period.

However, removing PCR tests will make it harder to sequence new variants.

Asked about sequencing, Ms Keegan said “we will definitely be keeping that in place”.

Labour shadow minister Pat McFadden said the party would support the change to testing rules as long as it was backed by scientific advice.

Boris Johnson speaking at Tuesday’s Downing Street briefing


POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

During the first Downing Street press conference of the year on Tuesday, Boris Johnson said he would advise his Cabinet during a crunch meeting on Wednesday, not to introduce further Covid measures on England.

That’s despite cases continuing to soar – with Tuesday’s count the biggest at any time during the pandemic.

The PM admitted while the NHS would need to take a “war footing” in the coming weeks with Omicron yet to peak, staff shortages across the public sector were causing “serious disruption”.

Christmas shoppers on Northumberland Street in Newcastle


Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)

Mr Johnson said another lockdown could be devastating, conceding Britain must “ride out” Omicron by sticking to the extended Plan B measures.

He went on to announce that 100,000 critical workers in sectors such as food processing, transport and the Border Force must undertake daily LFTs from January 10.

Tuesday saw a record 218,724 cases, including a backlog of 70,000 which came from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in recent days.

A UK Health Security Agency spokesman said: “The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe, with over 400 million tests carried out since the start of the pandemic.

“Those testing positive with a lateral flow test should take a confirmatory PCR test as guidelines advise.

“We continue to review PCR availability and continue to make more PCR booking slots available every day.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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