End of PCR follow-up tests will force thousands into quarantine TODAY

End of PCR follow-up tests will force thousands into quarantine from TODAY: Asymptomatic people who get positive lateral flow result must now spend seven days in isolation without hope of more accurate test

  • UK Health Security Agency announced the move amid sky-high case numbers 
  • Move will free up capacity in laboratories for those who have Covid symptoms 
  • Positive rapid lateral flow tests will require people to self-isolate immediately 
  • UKHSA said LFD tests are 80% effective at detecting high viral load individuals 
  • False positives are 3 in 10k but thousands could be affected due to test numbers 

Britons who test positive for Covid with a lateral flow test will have to self-isolate immediately and cannot have a PCR test to confirm their result from today, which critics believe means thousands face being quarantined with false positives.

Previous guidance to confirm positive rapid tests with more accurate lab results has been removed indefinitely because of the Omicron wave. 

The UK Health Security Agency said the ‘vast majority’ of people with a positive LFD result can be confident they have the virus because case rates are so high – but experts admit that around one in 3,000 tests brings a false positive.  

And lateral flow tests may be less effective at detecting Omicron even when people are at their most infectious, a US study found last week. It took an average of three days longer for people to test positive on a lateral flow test — which give results in as little as 15 minutes — after their infection had already been confirmed on a PCR test, they found.

The decision to limit PCRs is taking place to free up capacity in laboratories for PCR tests for those who have Covid-19 symptoms. 

Confirmatory PCR tests will no longer be allowed for people testing positive for Covid on a lateral flow test

People who receive a positive result on a lateral flow device (LFD) will be required to self-isolate immediately, without requiring PCR confirmation.    

On a visit to a vaccination clinic in Uxbridge, Boris Johnson poured cold water on rumours that lateral flow tests could stop being free soon, saying they will stay ‘as long as necessary’

The UKHSA insists it is a temporary measure while Covid-19 rates remain high across the UK – but there is currently no end date.

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 gov.uk, 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 behaviours to limit transmission of the virus, as this is the most effective way of stopping the spread of infection and keeping our friends, families and communities safe.”

Exceptions to the new rules include people who want to claim the Test and Trace Support Payment, those who are taking lateral flow tests as part of research and those who have a positive day 2 test result after they arrive in England.

Boris Johnson last night piled pressure on Government scientists to approve a further cut to Covid isolation after health chiefs admitted misleading ministers.

The Prime Minister asked the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to look again at whether the self-isolation period could be relaxed from seven days to five to ease crippling staff shortages in the economy and public services.

In an extraordinary twist, the UKHSA yesterday admitted it had issued misleading claims about the way Britain’s rules compare to other countries.

The health quango had claimed comparisons with the United States, where self- isolation has already been cut to five days, were ‘not like for like’, because self-isolation started from the date of a positive test rather than from when symptoms first emerge, as it does in the UK.

But last night the agency admitted it had been wrong, removing one of its central arguments against cutting self-isolation times – which have led to more than a million people being forced to stay away from the workplace.

Ministers had repeatedly cited the false advice in recent days when explaining why Government was moving so slowly on the issue.

Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month, after Michael Gove said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could ‘live with’ the virus.

The Plan B measures were imposed last month in response to the Omicron variant and include guidance on WFH and legal requirements for masks and Covid passes in certain venues.

Downing Street is examining options to lift them in stages if cases remain too high to remove them all in one go. Extending Covid passes, due to expire on January 26, would require another bruising clash with Tory backbenchers, which No10 wants to avoid.

But some ministers are pushing for the WFH guidance to be removed first, arguing that it causes the most damage to the economy.

The Prime Minister has asked the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to look again at whether the self-isolation period could be relaxed from seven days to five to ease crippling staff shortages in the economy and public services.

To work out flu deaths, the UK Health Security Agency — formerly Public Health England — estimates them using a statistical model, which looks at the prevalence of flu and excess winter fatalities. The cumulative number of fatalities was estimated to be in the region of 15,000 in 2016/17, with about 300 people dying every day at the peak. In 2017/18, during the Aussie flu outbreak, a total of 22,000 people were killed by influenza, with in excess of 400 dying per day at the worst of the epidemic. But in 2018/19 just 4,000 were estimated to have died to the virus, with just tens of people dying per day at the peak

How flu and Covid compare to other leading causes of death: Cancer is the biggest killer, taking around 166,000 lives every year, followed by dementia and heart disease. Covid has killed More than 150,000 Britons since the pandemic took off but it is expected to settle down and become an endemic illness in the coming years

In an extraordinary twist, the UKHSA yesterday admitted it had issued misleading claims about the way Britain’s rules compare to other countries.

Mr Gove, who has consistently argued for the toughest curbs, yesterday warned that there were ‘difficult weeks ahead’ for the NHS as the virus surges outside London. But he said there would be ‘better times ahead’ once the current surge in cases has passed.

‘There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live – viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread,’ he said.

‘So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and, I think for all of us, the sooner the better. But we have got to keep the NHS safe.’

The boss of a care home group with 2,300 staff has called on the Government to remove isolation requirements for people with Covid who are asymptomatic amid a rising backlog of patients in hospital.

Tony Stein, chief executive of Healthcare Management Solutions (HCMS), which has around 60 care homes in the UK, said around 500 of the company’s workers have had to isolate at some point during the pandemic, despite most having no symptoms.

The Birmingham firm, which owns some care homes and runs others for investors, currently has more than 100 staff isolating, a spokesman said.

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