NI’s health minister has revealed that most people will no longer be able to access a free PCR test from April 22.
Lateral flow tests (LFTs) will continue to be free, but only for people displaying Covid-19 symptoms and this policy continues to be reviewed.
Routine contact tracing is also set to be phased out between the middle of April and the end of June.
Health Minister Robin Swann says 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.
Commenting on the planned changes to testing, Dr Tom Black, BMA (NI) chair, commented: “BMA Northern Ireland is urging caution in removing access to testing over the next few months and is asking that the situation is kept under review and, if case levels rise or do not fall significantly from the current high level, then PCR testing and free access to lateral flow tests should remain in place. We are very concerned that there will be a two tier system where those who can afford to pay for tests will do so and those who can’t will not.
“Everyone wants to do the right thing and try to not spread infection but, if they cannot access a test, then that will be very difficult. Many people have used an LFT when not symptomatic and discovered they did, in fact, have Covid-19, but if there is no access to free tests then they could, unknowingly, put others at risk. We need to make sure that we continue to protect clinically vulnerable patients, those in nursing homes and staff and patients in healthcare settings.
“The health service is struggling in primary and secondary care to maintain services due to the number of staff off ill with Covid. We hope we’re on the road to normality but we will have to pivot quickly if events dictate. No one wants a return to restrictions so we need to continue to follow advice on face coverings, social distancing and hand washing.”