A major new Covid rule comes into effect today (January 11) designed to help the government combat a shortage of PCR tests whilst staying on top of the pandemic.
Previously, anyone who tests positive for Covid with no symptoms on a lateral flow test is required to undertake a confirmatory PCR test.
But that rule has now been scrapped and the result of an LFT will be deemed as sufficient proof of a person’s Covid status and no PCR test will be required as confirmation.
The government hopes the move will address a lack of PCR tests, but not at the expense of intelligence on the movement and prevalence of the disease in the UK.
The rule change comes after the UK’s Covid death toll passed 150,000 over the weekend and after another 141,472 infections were recorded on Sunday (January 9).
It is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Living with Covid strategy which aims to avoid any long-term restrictions in England from March this year.
What is the PCR test rule change?
No longer will people who test positive for Covid asymptomatically be required to confirm their status with a PCR test.
They will still have to isolate for at least seven days, but only from the date of their positive LFT.
People will still be encouraged to get a PCR test if they have symptoms and, once returning from the test, to stay at home until the results have been received.
Professor Azeem Majeed, Head of Imperial College London’s Department of Primary Case and Public Health told the i that the move is a “positive step”.
He said: “If you’re positive on lateral flow tests 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, providing 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?
The UKHSA said the change was “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 Agency said.
“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 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.”
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