The crucial change to Covid-19 testing rules comes into effect from today, affecting how to use PCRs.
From 11 January, anyone in England who tests positive for coronavirus on a lateral flow test will no longer have to take a PCR test to confirm the result.
People will still have to self-isolate for at least seven days, but this will start straight away from the date the lateral flow test was taken.
Under previous rules, people had to wait for a confirmatory PCR test result before beginning their isolation period.
Anyone who is fully vaccinated can stop isolating after seven days, proving they take a lateral flow test every day and get a negative on days six and seven, and have no symptoms.
Those who are unvaccinated are still required to isolate for a full 10 days.
Who does the rule change affect?
The latest change, announced by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) last week, affects people in England who are asymptomatic – an estimated 40% of cases – and test positive on a lateral flow.
It is intended to help people return to work more quickly, and free up capacity in laboratories by limiting PCR tests to those who have Covid-19 symptoms.
Anyone who develops one of the three main coronavirus symptoms – a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste – should self-isolate immediately and still get a PCR test.
The requirement to take a confirmatory PCR test for asymptomatic people who test positive on a lateral flow test has already been scrapped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Is the rule change permanent?
The UKHSA said the change testing rules is a temporary measure while Covid-19 rates remain high across the UK.
UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “This is a tried and tested approach. With Covid cases high, we can confidently say lateral flow tests can be used to indicate Covid-19 without the need for PCR confirmation.
“If you test positive on an LFD, you should self-isolate immediately and register your result to allow contact tracing to take place.
“It also remains really important that anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms self-isolates and takes a PCR test via gov.uk, or by phoning 119.”
Are there any exceptions to the rules?
There are some exceptions to the new rule changes introduced in England. These include:
- Those who want to claim the £500 self-isolation Test and Trace Support Payment. These people will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR test if they get a positive lateral flow result, before they can claim financial support.
- Those who are taking part in research or surveillance programmes may still be asked to take a follow-up lateral flow test.
- Those who have a positive day two test result after they arrive in England.
- Those who are at high-risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 and 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 lateral flow test result, as they may be eligible for new treatments if they receive a positive PCR result.