Do you need a PCR test after a positive lateral flow? Rule changes explained

The new rules mean that people who test positive with a rapid lateral flow device will still have to isolate from the day of their result but the lag time spent waiting for a laboratory result to be returned is removed.

The UK government has announced that Covid-19 testing rules are to be relaxed so that people who return a positive lateral flow test but are not displaying symptoms of the virus no longer need a follow-up PCR test before commencing their seven-day self-isolation period.

Under current rules, asymptomatic people who test positive are required to seek a PCR to confirm their infection and should only begin isolating once that test has in turn come back positive, in effect extending the quarantine session through unhelpful delays.

Around 40 per cent of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic so limiting PCR testing to those carrying symptoms only will greatly help to reduce the pressure on overwhelmed laboratories and allow people to return to work more quickly, it is hoped.

Many hospitals have been struggling under increased staff absences of late and 17 in Greater Manchester announced on Tuesday that they would be suspending some non-urgent surgery as 15 per cent of their employees were off sick.

The change will come into play from Tuesday 11 January as part of an effort to both reduce the amount of time sufferers are forced to spend alone and to address the nationwide staffing shortages.

The guidance is temporary and will be withdrawn once infection levels in England drop, the UK Health Security Agency said.

A similar strategy was adopted in January 2021 due to the high prevalence of Covid this time last year.

Trailing the announcement during an appearance on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning, health minister Gillian Keegan said: “The teams are looking constantly at what makes sense and what works.”

Scientists have broadly welcomed the move but cautioned that people need to report their results to the government website.

“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,” said Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

“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.”

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