U.K. Eases Covid-19 Testing Rules as Omicron Breaks Records
Covid-19 testing rules in England will be temporarily relaxed from Jan. 11, the U.K. government said, a move that will free up capacity as new cases remain at record levels.
People who test positive using rapid test kits will no longer need to take so-called PCR tests to confirm the result, the U.K. Health Security Agency said in a statement Wednesday. The suspension of the rules comes amid high prevalence of the virus across the U.K., with over 218,000 cases reported on Tuesday.
The aim is to encourage people without Covid-19 symptoms to self-isolate as soon as they test positive on a lateral flow device, the agency said, instead of waiting for a PCR result. Those with symptoms should still get a PCR test.
Officials believe it will enhance contact tracing because all those who log a positive rapid test will now be in the tracing system, rather than only those who take a PCR test as is the case currently.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has relied on light-touch regulations to manage the omicron wave, which his cabinet agreed Wednesday to continue. But the change to testing rules means ministers will effectively be relying on people reporting their results from home tests to track the path of the pandemic.
It is estimated that about a million people report their lateral flow test results everyday; of those testing positive, between 60% and 80% then go on to meet the requirement to get PCR confirmation.
Rosena Allin-Khan, a health spokesperson for the main opposition Labour Party, warned the strategy shift could mask the “true extent” of cases.
Even so, scientists generally welcomed the change given the prevalence of the virus is high. “This is a sensible approach as long as positive results are reported and the lateral flow kits are in good supply,” Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said in a statement.
The requirement to take a follow-up PCR test will return once the prevalence of the virus -- the proportion of the population who have it -- drops below around 1% from an estimated 4% now, according to government officials.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.