PCR test centres in the north west will close from tomorrow amid new changes to testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing coming into effect from Friday evening.
The Department of Health said the focus will now shift to protecting those at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
As of Friday evening, April 22, people will no longer need to take a PCR test if you have COVID-19 symptom and testing sites across Northern Ireland will close from this date.
Instead if people have symptoms they are advised they should take a lateral flow test. These tests continue to be available free of charge from over 500 community pharmacies across Northern Ireland or by ordering online. Visit nidirect.gov.uk/testing to check if you are eligible.
Access to tests for asymptomatic people in the general population will however cease from Friday evening.
If you do not have symptoms, you are no longer advised to take a lateral flow test, unless you are a visitor to a high risk setting like a care home, hopsice or hopsital; providing close personal care to someone in their own home, who may be at greater risk from COVID-19; your GP/healthcare professional has asked you to take a test.
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.”
The Public Health Agency’s Contact Tracing Service will also change to focus on providing public health advice to positive cases and members of their household. Those who test positive should continue to report their result. Contact tracing in the wider community will cease from April 22.
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.