As of January 11th, people in England, who are asymptomatic but have had a positive lateral flow test, will no longer be required to take a follow-up PCR test.
Current rules require that any asymptomatic person who has a positive LFT result take a PCR test, which must then be sent off to a lab for processing. The individual might not know the result of the test for several days, which in turn delays the beginning of the “official” isolation period.
The rule changes come into place amid staff shortages, which have hit the NHS and schools particularly hard, with some surgeries being delayed until later in the year and retired teachers being asked to come back to work in order to cover the shortage. At least a million people are currently believed to be isolating across the UK, after a week of repeated record-high daily cases, with Tuesday’s numbers exceeding 200,000.
But Care Minister, Gillian Keegan, insisted that the change was intended to reflect the “accuracy and the amount of lateral flow tests” rather than a way of reducing staff shortages.
The changes are expected to be temporary until the number of covid cases drops. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says that the new guidance will be reviewed once the percentage of cases in England drops below 1% of the population. Currently, 4% of England is believed to be infected, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The change should ease the demand on PCR testing laboratories, as well as the UK supply of PCR tests, which fell so low over the Christmas period that many walk-in test centres were forced to close.
The UKHSA has said that when the prevalence of covid is high, as it is currently, the chances of a false positive on an LFT is low, stating that for every 10,000 LFTs carried out, there are expected to be 3 or fewer false positives.
Professor John Edmunds, member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said:
“When the prevalence is high – and it is incredibly high at the moment – almost everyone who tests positive with a lateral flow test will be a true positive.”
“There is really no need to confirm this with a PCR, a step that not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses up laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere.”
Those without symptoms who have a positive LFT result will still be required to isolate for 7 days.