Following a government announcement, people no longer need to get a PCR test – even after getting a positive lateral flow test. Here’s what you need to know about the new testing and self-isolation rules
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As Omicron cases continue to surge in the country, testing shortages have been faced across the UK for both PCR tests and lateral flow test (LFT) kits.
And now, the UK Health Security Agency has announced new changes to coronavirus testing. These will come into place from Tuesday, January 11, 2022, so they do not apply to anyone testing positive prior to this date.
Previously, anyone who recorded a positive lateral flow test was expected to get a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result.
The announcement of the PCR test rule change was made on Wednesday, January 5, 2022.
But what will difference will these new testing rules make and how does it affect self-isolation? Here’s everything you need to know about it.
What are the new testing and isolation rules in England?
Under new rules, people who receive a positive lateral flow test result, but have no symptoms, will not be required to get a PCR test. This means that they will only have isolate for a week starting from the date they test positive.
Currently, people have to start their isolation period from when they test positive on a PCR, the results of which may take days to come back.
The change allows asymptomatic sufferers – believed to be some 40% of cases – to return to work faster. However, those who test positive on a lateral flow test will still need to isolate for seven days.
However, those with symptoms of Covid will still need to get a PCR test, irrespective of if they have a positive lateral flow test or not.
For now, it’s unclear how the rule changes might affect testing for travel abroad, as industry groups continue to call for the lifting of any remaining restrictions.
This move is set to ease the demand for PCR tests, which the UK faced shortages of, both in terms of ordering home kits and for appointments at testing centres around the nation.
The rule changes currently only apply to England and are temporary, while Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are yet to to announce any changes to PCR testing.
What difference would scrapping PCR tests make for those who test positive on an LFT?
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Under current rules, people start their self-isolation after receiving confirmation of a positive PCR. The change to testing rules will mean that isolation periods would be cut short.
So, you will now need to isolate from the date you test positive on a lateral flow test rather than waiting for PCR test results.
Ministers believe that scrapping the need for a follow-up PCR will help ease the burden on the public sector, which is facing increased staff absences due to the self-isolation requirements.
Right now, it’s believed that over one million people are self-isolating, causing mass staff shortages in schools, on trains and more worryingly in the NHS.
This change would also help to free up testing capacity since the UK has faced a dramatic surge in demand for tests since late December.
Will there be any more restrictions introduced?
Though NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the NHS is on a ‘war footing’ in a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson has said he will not be introducing any more coronavirus restrictions, ruling out another national lockdown for now.
Instead, he announced that the country would stick to Plan B measures including working from home and wearing masks.
Mr Johnson accepted that the weeks ahead are going to be ‘challenging’, with some services facing disruption due to staff shortages.
To tackle these shortages, he said: “‘If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet.’”
He added that the ultimately rules will have to become relaxed enough that people who are Covid positive will be allowed to “go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold.”