Covid: Free PCR tests to end for most next month

Most people will no longer be able to access a free PCR test from April 22, the NI health minister has revealed.
Lateral flow testLateral flow test
Lateral flow test

Lateral flow tests (LFTs) will continue to be free, but only for people displaying Covid-19 symptoms and this policy will continue to be reviewed.

Routine contact tracing is also set to be phased out between the middle of April and the end of June.

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Health Minister Robin Swann says the changes reflect “the new realities of the pandemic”.

“The risk posed by the virus at the present time does not justify testing and isolating large swathes of the population at the levels that we have seen to date in the past two years,” he added.

“Test and trace will continue to have a key role and will be used in a more focused and targeted way to support and protect our most vulnerable.”

PCR testing will only be available to people who have “clinical reasons” for needing it.

The following changes will take effect from April 22:

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* PCR testing will no longer be recommended or available for most people with symptoms. It will still be available to support the small group for whom it is recommended for clinical reasons. The PCR home ordering service will remain available for the general public to support those for whom PCR is recommended.

* Publicly accessible COVID-19 testing sites will close. Local Health and Social Care Trusts will continue to provide PCR testing to support clinical care.

* Those with symptoms will be advised to use lateral flow devices (LFDs) to test instead of booking a PCR. This will be kept under review and could remain in place up to the end of June depending on disease trajectory.

* Routine asymptomatic testing (that is testing for those with no symptoms) will continue to be advised for those living, working and visiting health and social care settings including hospitals and care homes and other high risk settings in line with public health advice. This will be kept under review.

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* Asymptomatic LFD testing for the wider population will cease. Access to free LFDs for this purpose will cease.

* Routine asymptomatic workplace testing will cease.

* Routine asymptomatic testing in most educational settings (including mainstream schools, early learning and childcare, universities and further education colleges) will cease at the Easter break.

* Asymptomatic testing in special schools will continue after Easter and will be kept under review. It may continue until the end of June 2022.

* Routine population contact tracing will be phased out between mid-April and the end of June.

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Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride says the rules are aimed at protecting the most vulnerable and is urging people in that category to stay aware of the rules.

“The tools at our disposal to protect people who are at higher risk from COVID-19 have advanced considerably since the early days of the pandemic,” he added.

“Alongside the vaccine and booster programme, new Covid-19 treatments continue to be used by patients in Northern Ireland and new treatments are in development.”

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