This means those without symptoms can begin self-isolating immediately, rather than waiting days for confirmation, which should help to eat into the staff shortages currently blighting British businesses as the result of the Omicron spread while also relieving pressure on overworked laboratories.
In the latest revisions to England’s rules for combatting the coronavirus, Boris Johnson’s government has ruled that, as of Tuesday 11 January, asymptomatic Covid patients who test positive with a lateral flow test no longer need to seek a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis.
Anyone who tests positive is still advised to upload their result to the NHS system to enable Test and Trace to contact their close contacts and those and those who do betray symptoms (high temperature, continuous cough and loss of sense of taste or smell) are still instructed to seek a PCR.
Prior to Chistmas, the government also cut the self-isolation period required of those who have tested positive for the virus from 10 days to seven in the event that they subsequently test negative twice.
It is currently being suggested that that period be cut even further, from seven days to five, although that has yet to be confirmed.
The present rules mean that if an infected person can show a negative lateral flow result on day six and seven of quarantine, they are free to stop there rather than continue for the previously-mandatory three days.
Those who do end their quarantine after seven days are still advised to avoid other people likely to be vulnerable, shun crowded indoor venues and work from home, according to official advice.
Those whose tests are still positive on day six or seven must continue to isolate.
The revised guidance applies to everyone, regardless of their vaccination status or which strain of Covid-19 they may have contracted. The revision also applies retroactively to anyone who is currently in the midst of quarantining.
Those who are not double-jabbed and come into contact with an infected person must still self-isolate for the full 10 days but those who are vaccinated and encounter the virus do not have to isolate but are advised to take lateral flows daily for the next week.
Should one of those come back positive, indicating a “breakthrough” case, the patient should isolate for the full 10 days and seek a PCR test to verify the result.
Health secretary Sajid Javid introduced the change during a hospital visit on 22 December by explaining that it was intended to cut disruption as the Omicron variant continues to drive up daily case numbers, adding that the decision had been made with the approval of the government’s scientific advisers.
Staff shortages have continued to create problems in workplaces across the country and the government is keen to avoid a repeat of the “pingdemic” experienced in the summer when the overzealous NHS Test and Trace app was firing out notifications ordering people to self-isolate and inadvertently causing chaos.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the revised guidelines were based on updated medical advice and would “help break chains of transmission” while reducing “the impact on lives and livelihoods”.