Covid: confirmatory PCR tests in England will no longer be needed after positive lateral flow

The requirement to take a confirmatory PCR will be suspended in England from 11 January
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People in England without coronavirus symptoms who have a positive lateral flow test will no longer need a confirmatory PCR test.

The requirement will be temporarily suspended from 11 January, the UK Health Security Agency said.

From Tuesday those who receive positive lateral flow results will be required to self-isolate immediately and won’t be required to take a confirmatory PCR test.

Health officials are understood to have drawn up plans to limit PCR tests to people who are symptomatic (Photo: Getty Images)Health officials are understood to have drawn up plans to limit PCR tests to people who are symptomatic (Photo: Getty Images)
Health officials are understood to have drawn up plans to limit PCR tests to people who are symptomatic (Photo: Getty Images)

The move has been described as a temporary measure while Covid-19 rates remain high across the UK. The high rate of cases means the chances of a false positive from a positive lateral flow result are very low.

At a glance 5 key points

  • From 11 January those without symptoms in England who have a positive lateral flow will no longer need a follow-up PCR
  • A similar approach was taken in January last year.
  • Lateral flow tests are taken by people who do not have Covid symptoms, anyone who develops one of the three main Covid-19 symptoms should stay at home and self-isolate and take a PCR test.
  • They must self-isolate if they get a positive test result, even if they have had a recent negative lateral flow test
  • Sajid Javid said plans were being put in place to manage demand for PCR tests to ensure those who needed them most could access them

Who does the new measures apply to?

Relaxing the testing rules comes as Boris Johnson acts to combat staff absences in key parts of the economy and health service.

Currently those without symptoms who test positive on a lateral flow are asked to order a PCR test and only begin their isolation period when they receive the second result, effectively forcing them to isolate for longer than seven days – particularly if there are delays in obtaining the confirmatory result.

Under this new approach, anyone who receives a positive lateral flow device test result should report their result on and must self-isolate immediately. After reporting a positive LFD test result, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace so that their contacts can be traced and must continue to self-isolate.

In line with the reduced self-isolation regulations announced for England on 22 December, anyone who tests positive will be able to leave self-isolation seven days after the date of their initial positive test if they receive two negative lateral flow results, 24 hours apart, on days six and seven.

Exceptions to the relaxed testing measures are those eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment (TTSP) who will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR if they receive a positive lateral flow result, to enable them to access financial support.

People participating in research or surveillance programmes may still be asked to take a follow-up PCR test. Those who are at risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid and have been identified by the NHS as being potentially eligible for new treatments will receive at home PCR tests after a positive lateral flow.

What has been said about it?

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said: “We have built a world-leading testing system and our testing capacity is the largest in Europe. This has helped save lives and protect millions of people from Covid-19. It forms a crucial line of defence alongside vaccines and antivirals.

“As Omicron cases continue to rise the demand for tests has grown rapidly across the globe. We’re putting plans in place to manage the demand for PCR tests in the UK so we can ensure that those who most need tests can continue to access them.”

UKHSA Chief Executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “While cases of Covid continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate Covid-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation.

“It remains really important that anyone who experiences Covid-19 symptoms self-isolates immediately. They should also order a PCR test on, or by phoning 119.

“I’m really grateful to the public and all of our critical workers who continue to test regularly and self-isolate when necessary, along with other practical and important public health behaviours, as this is the most effective way of stopping the spread of the virus and keeping our friends, families and communities safe.”

This article will continue to be updated

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