In what was presented as a relaxation of testing requirements, but is in fact a withdrawal of service, the UKHSA has announced that as of January 11th confirmatory PCR tests will no longer be recommended – and thus unavailable – for those who test positive on a lateral flow test (LFT) without symptoms. MailOnline has more.
Confirmatory PCR tests will no longer be needed for people testing positive for Covid on a lateral flow test, health chiefs confirmed today.
Previous guidance to back up positive rapid tests with more accurate lab results will be removed from January 11th.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced the move amid sky-high case numbers across England.
The move will free up capacity in laboratories for PCR tests for those who have Covid symptoms.
People who receive a positive result on a lateral flow device (LFD) will be required to self-isolate immediately for seven days, without requiring PCR confirmation.
UKHSA said this is a temporary measure while Covid rates remain high across the UK.
Officials said that while levels of Covid are high, the “vast majority” of people with positive LFD results can be confident they have the virus.
They estimated the number of “false positives” results, where people without the virus get a positive LFD result, are as low as three in 10,000.
However with just under 1.5 million of LFD tests being conducted across the UK every day this could lead to thousands of people who don’t have Covid having to isolate.
People who have Covid symptoms, such as a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or change in sense of taste and/or smell should still get a PCR test, UKHSA said.
UKHSA has said that LFTs are 80% effective at finding people with high viral loads of Covid. However, Professor Sheila Bird, a former programme leader of the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, said the 80% figure is based on data from the Alpha and Delta waves. “For transparency, results for these Omicron-era dual-testing evaluations should be placed in the public domain at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
Anecdotally I have been told by several people that they tested positive on LFT but then subsequently tested negative on PCR. Some of them were symptomatic. They said the person on the phone at Test and Trace told them this was very common at the moment as the LFTs were cross-reacting with other viruses and producing false positives that the PCR test then overruled.
If this is the case – and I have no reason to doubt it – then despite the change being billed as a solution to the staffing crisis it will only make it worse as thousands of people have to isolate from LFT false positives for which no confirmatory PCR test is available.
Since mass testing of the healthy has clearly failed to contain the virus – with new figures from the ONS today showing that an estimated 6% of the country was infected at the end of December – and with so many protected via natural immunity and vaccination, and with Omicron so mild, the Government needs to end all mass testing without delay and limit testing to contexts, such as hospitals and care homes, where it is needed to diagnose illness and protect the vulnerable.
Stop Press: The Mail is reporting that the Government is set to scrap all pre-departure Covid traveller tests today in a boost for the tourism industry, while the airline industry is demanding the Government goes a step further and axes all travel tests. Good news – but is it not time to accept that mass testing no longer serves any useful purpose (if it ever did) and we need to end this expensive drag on our economy and lives?