Do I still need a PCR test? Covid testing rules for asymptomatic cases in UK explained

Confirmatory PCR tests for asymptomatic people who test positive on a lateral flow device have been scrapped

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A crucial change to Covid-19 testing rules is now in force in the UK, affecting how to use PCRs.

Under new rules, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus on a lateral flow device is no longer required to take a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result.

The new measures applies in England from 11 January (Photo: Getty Images)The new measures applies in England from 11 January (Photo: Getty Images)
The new measures applies in England from 11 January (Photo: Getty Images)

Under previous rules, people had to wait for a confirmatory PCR test result before beginning their isolation period.

The change means that people can begin their isolation period straight away from the date the lateral flow test was taken, effectively bringing quarantine to an end much sooner.

Who does the rule change affect?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced the new rules would take effect in England from 11 January.

It affects those who are asymptomatic - an estimated 40% of cases - and test positive on a lateral flow device

The measure 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.

Confirmatory PCR tests for asymptomatic people who test positive on a lateral flow device are also no longer needed 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, or by phoning 119.”

Are there any exceptions to the rules?

There are some exceptions to the recent rule change 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.

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