BRITS who test positive with a DIY lateral flow test won't need to do a follow-up PCR check from January 11.
Instead, people in England can self-isolate for a week as long as they are negative on day six and seven.
Currently, Brits must have a gold-standard PCR swab after a positive lateral flow – and this is still the case until the new rules comes in.
But ministers are set to green light the temporary requirement to free up testing capacity – as thousands face long delays getting PCR and lateral flows due to supply chain issues.
By eliminating the need to wait for a PCR test, symptomless Covid patients could see their isolation cut down by one or two days – but must report their lateral flow results so cases can still be properly tracked.
While infection rates are so high, anyone testing positive on a lateral flow can be confident they have the virus.
Nearly 31,000 confirmatory PCR checks were carried out in England alone on December 29 – despite lateral flows being 99.97 per cent accurate.
From next Tuesday, you should still have a PCR if you are showing symptoms and have had both a negative or positive lateral flow.
Officials hope a change in testing rules will also reduce infection spread, as Brits will no longer leave home to get an extra test.
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The rule change has been delayed by red tape around sickness payments.
UKHSA Chief Executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “While cases of Covid 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."
It comes as slots for PCRs and lateral flows have run out today – with Brits hoping to book a PCR test at a drive-through or walk in site in England told there are none left.
Lateral flow tests for home delivery have also run out, with no slots available on the Government website.
However, local pharmacies or collection points should have supplies left so it's worth checking there, and PCRs for at home testing are still available through the post.
Exemptions to the new rules:
There are a few exceptions to this revised approach:
- People eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment (TTSP) will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR if they receive a positive LFD result, to enable them to access financial support.
- People participating in research or surveillance programmes may still be asked to take a follow-up PCR test.
- Around one million people in England who are at particular risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 have been identified by the NHS as being potentially eligible for new treatments. They will be receiving a PCR test kit at home by mid-January to use if they develop symptoms or if they get a positive LFD result, as they may be eligible for new treatments if they receive a positive PCR result. This group should use these priority PCR tests when they have symptoms as it will enable prioritised laboratory handling.
Last week the system strained under the weight of Brits trying to order tests, as the variant rapidly spread during the festive period – with boxes being snapped up quickly.
As it stands, Brits who are self-isolating after catching coronavirus can apply for financial support as Covid rules are ramped up amid the Omicron variant spread.
No 10 yesterday refused to rule out rationing Covid tests in the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister's spokesman said: “We would obviously need to keep under review, as prevalence is incredibly high, what the right approach might be and we continue to take advice on whether that is necessary.”
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told BBC Breakfast lateral flows were very accurate when it came to recording a positive result.
He added: "Of course, with a PCR test what happens is a number of those can get sent away for sequencing and then you get more information regarding the virus itself.
"So, that sort of information may potentially be lost, but only a subset of those PCR tests are sent away for sequencing anyway, so, hopefully, we won't be losing the levels of information that we already have in this country that enables us to identify variants and so forth."
He said it was "very, very important" that if any changes were brought in regarding dropping some PCRs that people still recorded their results from lateral flows.
Calls to cut the Covid testing requirements comes as Downing Street is urged to follow America's lead and reduce isolation to five days to free up shut-in Brits.
Worst estimates claim up to a quarter of public sector workers could be self-isolating because Omicron is so easy to catch.
That’s more than a million frontline staff stuck at home for seven days or more as hospitalisations rise.
Scientists have found that the Omicron variant – which is now responsible for 90 per cent of cases in the UK – is milder, with most people suffering cold-like symptoms.
The first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.
Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.
Experts have cautioned that continuing with the current seven-day isolation plans will mean that the NHS is understaffed.
Professor Alison Leary, chair of health care and workforce modelling at London Southbank University said as much as 40 per cent of the workforce could be absent in the coming weeks.
Professor Sir John Bell last month said that the biggest threat to the NHS is currently the impact isolation is having on staffing levels.
He said: "The stress on the health service at the moment, particularly in London, is the effect of the loss of staff because they're quarantining because they've been in contact [with someone testing positive.
"So I think there will be a workforce issue emerging from that quite soon."
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