Northern Ireland has announced the closure of free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for Covid-19 but lateral flow tests will continue to be free for patients displaying symptoms or people visiting high-risk settings and those providing close personal care.
Anyone with symptoms will no longer be required to take a PCR test, with all testing sites across Northern Ireland closing from Friday (April 22). Instead, people with symptoms have been advised to take lateral flow tests which are still available in over 500 community pharmacies across the country. Those who don’t have symptoms are no longer required to take a lateral flow test, unless they are visiting higher risk settings such as care homes, hospices or hospitals.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan said: “While prevalence of the virus remains high, the risk of serious illness has been significantly reduced – largely due to the success of our vaccination programme and the use of new Covid-19 treatments. As signalled in the department’s transition plan, these changes are proportionate and necessary at this stage of the pandemic.
“Transmission of Covid-19 in health and social care settings remains a risk and adds to the demands and pressures on our workforce. Anyone visiting friends or family in these settings should continue to take a lateral flow test before their visit.”
Isolation guidance for household contacts is also changing. Daily lateral flow testing is no longer advised. Household contacts are asked to be alert to symptoms and should only test if they develop symptoms. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated household contacts. There is no change at this time to the guidance on isolation for positive cases.
Concluding, Dr Geoghegan said: “At this time it is important that we focus contact tracing services to help protect those at higher risk. Household contacts of a positive case are at greater risk of contracting the virus.
“Positive cases and their households will therefore continue to be provided with the necessary public health advice. It also remains vital that those at higher risk and who may be eligible for Covid-19 treatments, take a lateral flow test as soon as symptoms develop, even if symptoms are mild, as treatments should commence quickly following a positive test result.
“I urge everyone to find out if they are eligible to access lateral flow tests under the new arrangements by visiting NI Direct. We should continue to protect those at higher risk by testing if we have symptoms and isolating if we receive a positive test result.”
Test and Trace policy will be kept under review during the ongoing period of transition up until the end of June.