From Jan. 11, those who test positive for COVID-19 in England with a lateral flow test (LFD) should not validate the result with a PCR test unless they develop symptoms, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Wednesday.
It’s expected to ease the pressure on the UK’s PCR testing capacity and shorten the self-isolation period for some.
UKHSA said the temporary suspension is due to the high level of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus infections across the UK.
An estimated 3.7 million people in the UK had COVID-19 in the week ending Dec. 31, 2021, up from 2.3 million in the week to Dec. 23, and the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, the Office for National Statistics said.
“Whilst levels of COVID-19 are high, the vast majority of people with positive LFD results can be confident that they have COVID-19,” UKHSA said in a press release.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it’s to ensure the UK’s PCR testing capacity “reaches those who need it most.”
The measure will start one day after 100,000 critical workers in England’s essential services are provided with daily lateral flow tests.
People who test positive for the CCP virus with an LFD but do not develop a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss of, or change in, their normal sense of taste or smell, are told to immediately self-isolate, report the result to the government’s website, and not book a PCR test.
However, those who are eligible for the £500 ($679) Test and Trace Support Payment will still be required to have a confirmatory PCR test result in order to access the fund, and participants of research or surveillance programmes may still be asked to take a PCR test.
Around one million people in England are also expected to receive a PCR test kit by mid-January because they are “at particular risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19” and “have been identified by the NHS as being potentially eligible for new treatments.” But the group is asked to use the kit when they have symptoms to enable prioritised laboratory handling.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s scientific advisory panel, said the confirmatory PCR test is unnecessary because it “not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses up laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere.”
But he said there were also downsides because PCR tests would give researchers “slightly less information” on the different variants in circulation because the swabs can undergo sequencing to determine which strain of coronavirus is present.
Kate Nicholls, from trade body UKHospitality welcomed the news, saying the measure would shorten self-isolation periods for asymptomatic cases and will help allow the economy to keep moving.
Current law requires people to self-isolate for up to 10 days after receiving a positive PCR test, but many asymptomatic people would have started self-isolation following a positive LFD test as the government advised, effectively lengthening the period.
Scotland and Wales will implement the change from Thursday, five days earlier than England.
The Welsh government estimates it will reduce the demand for PCR tests in Wales by between 5 percent and 15 percent.