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Changes to Covid-19 testing explained: Those without symptoms who test positive with lateral flow device no longer need a PCR test



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People who tests positive using a lateral flow device but does not have any Covid-19 symptoms no longer needs to take a confirmatory PCR test, as of today.

The government is abandoning the requirement for asymptomatic people who show two lines on a rapid flow kit to double-check they have the virus with a second more sensitive PCR swab.

Lateral flow tests are very specific - meaning you can be confident about a positive result (54186940)
Lateral flow tests are very specific - meaning you can be confident about a positive result (54186940)

The government said it is a temporary measure while rates of the Omicron variant remain so high across the UK, including record levels of the virus in Cambridgeshire.

Sensitivity of lateral flow tests is high, meaning that anyone who tests positive using one can be confident they have it, say health officials.

However, their specificity is not quite so high, meaning a negative test does not guarantee that you do not have Covid-19.

What is the purpose of the change?

The aim of the change is to free up free up PCR capacity for more patients with symptoms while also enabling those with no symptoms and a positive lateral flow to begin their isolation period much sooner rather than waiting for the results of their PCR in order to start.

Rapid lateral flow tests are most useful, says the government, at identifying Covid-19 in people who don't have any symptoms.

The tests are said to be more than 80 per cent effective at picking up people with high viral loads who are at their most infectious and therefore most likely to spread the virus to others, including the vulnerable.

There are no changes being made to the rules for those with coronavirus symptoms, which include a high temperature or a continuous cough.

Anyone who is unwell with Covid symptoms must self-isolate and book themselves a PCR test to confirm whether their illness is Covid-19, even if they have had a recent negative flow result.

The government is abandoning the requirement for asymptomatic people who show two lines on a rapid flow kit to double-check they definitely have Covid 19 with a second more sensitive PCR swab
The government is abandoning the requirement for asymptomatic people who show two lines on a rapid flow kit to double-check they definitely have Covid 19 with a second more sensitive PCR swab

People with no symptoms and a positive lateral flow test must still report their result on the GOV.UK website to enable Test and Trace officials to get in touch with them and trace their close contacts.

The exceptions

But there remain a number of exceptions to this revised approach for people without symptoms and a positive rapid home test.

People who are eligible and wish to make a claim for the £500 Test and Trace Support payment will still need to take a confirmatory PCR result if they get a positive lateral flow, in order to be able to access the financial support scheme.

Those who may be taking part in one of the ongoing research or surveillance programmes tracking the spread of coronavirus must also be asked to take a follow-up PCR if they report a positive result on a rapid lateral flow test.

A positive lateral flow test result (54186942)
A positive lateral flow test result (54186942)

Self-isolation rules

While those who are aysmptomatic with a positive lateral flow test can now start their isolation period much sooner, there have been no changes to the self-isolation rules since their last amendment at the end of December, despite some calls for the isolation period to be reduced to five days.

The current reduced self-isolation approach means that anyone who tests positive will be able to leave self-isolation seven days after the date of their initial positive test if they receive two negative lateral flow results, taken 24 hours apart, on days six and seven.

Chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, said: “While cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate Covid-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation.

“It remains really important that anyone who experiences Covid-19 symptoms self-isolates immediately. They should also order a PCR test on GOV.UK or by phoning 119.”

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