PCR test changes: Every new Covid test rule you need to know from today

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Coronavirus testing guidance has changed once again today in response to rising cases of the Omicron variant. While the updated PCR testing rules largely apply to those with a positive lateral flow, the newest rules will see a significant change to the national testing system. These are the latest changes you need to know, in full.

What is the PCR test rule change?

The Government’s latest statement on the changes reads: “If you get a positive rapid lateral flow test result, most people will not need to take a PCR test to confirm the result.

“You must self-isolate immediately if you get a positive rapid lateral flow test result.”

Under the new rules, lateral flow tests are now permitted as the sole testing device for Covid-positive individuals.

Professor Azeem Majeed, Head of Imperial College London’s Department of Primary Care and Public Health said: “If you’re positive on lateral flow tests (LFTs) that’s almost certainly diagnostic of a COVID-19 infection in the current situation we’re in, as infection rates are so high.”

When should PCR tests still be used?

While the latest testing changes have removed the need for PCR tests in most cases, there are several occasions when a PCR test is still required.

According to Gov.uk, people who have a positive lateral flow test result should only book a follow-up PCR test if:

  • They wish to claim the Test and Trace Support Payment
  • They have a health condition which may be suitable for new coronavirus treatments
  • They are taking lateral flow device tests (LFTs) as part of research or surveillance programmes, and the programme asks them to do so
  • They have a positive day two LFT after arriving in England

A positive lateral flow test result must always be reported regardless of whether a PCR is also required based on the above criteria.

You must report your result

The latest guidance has been introduced in a bid to relieve some pressure on the PCR testing system, which has become overwhelmed with bookings.

With PCR tests no longer required for positive LFT results, it is more important than ever to record results using the QR code on the rapid device testing strips.

The UK Health Security Agency has urged people across the UK to report their positive result immediately using the Gov.uk test result portal.

Government guidelines state that:

  • You cannot report a result after more than 24 hours
  • You can only report one result at a time

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You still have to self-isolate

Despite changes to the PCR testing system, self-isolation rules remain in place for people who test positive using a rapid lateral flow device.

This means that people who test positive on an LFT will still have to isolate for a minimum of seven days, but only from the date of their positive lateral flow test.

The isolation period can end on the seventh day as long as you test negative on a lateral flow test on the sixth and seventh day and you do not have a high temperature.

If you continue to test positive or your symptoms persist, you should self-isolate for 10 days.

Those who are not fully vaccinated will also need to isolate if they live with someone who tests positive for coronavirus.

Why have testing rules changed?

Until today, Government guidance advised asymptomatic people with a positive lateral flow test to take a follow-up PCR test to confirm their status.

As Omicron cases continue to rise, the demand for Covid testing facilities continues to outweigh national supplies, causing significant issues in case tracking.

The UK Health Security Agency said: “This is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK.

“Whilst levels of Covid are high, the vast majority of people with positive LFT results can be confident that they have COVID-19.”

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