A new surge of infections is sweeping the globe, bringing more challenges, including changes regarding coronavirus testing guidelines due to the Omicron variant, spreading at an alarming rate.
According to the Office of the National Statistics, 1 in 15 people in England had COVID-19, rising to 1 in 10 in London. This was reported during the last week of 2021 and was considered the fastest growth in COVID-19 cases in Britain.
COVID-19 tests are crucial in preventing and mitigating the quick soaring infection rates fuelled by the Omicron variant. Here is everything you need to know about COVID-19 testing in the UK in the time of Omicron:
What have testing rules changed?
Countries worldwide have reduced some of their restrictions for people with active coronavirus infections since the start of the surge caused by Omicron. In the UK, the 10-day isolation period is cut to 7 days, given that they receive negative results on two lateral flow tests (LFTs), also called rapid antigen tests, on days 6 and 7 of their isolation period.
The LFTs must be taken 24 hours apart, and the first test must be taken no earlier than day 6 of the self-isolation period. People are advised to remain cautious and avoid vulnerable people.
Do people still need confirmatory PCR tests?
People who test positive using a rapid antigen test will no longer need a follow-up PCR test. As the background levels of the COVID-19 in the UK are incredibly high, a positive LFT result is considered less likely to be false. The UK government announced this on January 5th, temporarily scrapping the need for a confirmatory PCR test.
The change comes after the UK’s testing system was overwhelmed following the unprecedented demand caused by high infection rates during Christmas. Furthermore, not having to take a follow-up PCR test takes the pressure of the PCR testing system. The testing scheme aims to encourage people to isolate immediately as soon as they test positive on a lateral flow device.
However, those experiencing symptoms are not exempt from this testing guideline as they must get a PCR test. According to government officials, the need to take a follow-up PCR test will return once the prevalence of the virus drops below 1% from an estimated 4%, according to government officials.
Are LFTs reliable?
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has made many countries reliant on rapid antigen tests to determine whether an individual has COVID-19. But due to their lower sensitivity, they tend to produce more false positives.
While those who test positive on a lateral flow test will not need a confirmatory PCR test, individuals who test negative will still take a PCR coronavirus test to rule out infection, making it a powerful tool in tackling the pandemic as the demand for PCR tests increased. LFTs have higher chances of producing false-negative results for several reasons, such as failing to swab the nose and throat properly and mixing the swab well with testing fluid. Also, LFTs can only detect large amounts of viruses.
Are you looking for a testing provider?
Harley Medic International is a government-approved testing provider and an expert in COVID-19 testing. They have many locations across the UK, ensuring that a testing centre is near you. Getting a test is as easy as booking online and finding their closest clinic. Visit their website harleymedic.co.uk to learn more.