Changes to PCR testing advice for close contacts in Northern Ireland announced

The Public Health Agency has said that people should now only now book PCR tests when necessary amid a surge in demand over recent days.

By Brendan McDaid
Thursday, 30th December 2021, 10:36 am

Earlier this week local people trying to book PCR tests expressed concern that the nearest appointments were in the Ballymena and Maghera areas, while long queues formed at walk-in facilities.

On Monday alone this week over 21,000 tests were carried out in the north, with reports that the wait for results is now longer than was previously the case.

In light of the pressures on testing facilities and the massive jump in positive COVID infections over Christmas, the PHA has issued new advice on what to do if you are identified as a close contact.

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The PHA is urging people to only get a PCR if they have a positive lateral flow test. File picture. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

Dr Bríd Farrell, Deputy Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “Fully-vaccinated close contacts will no longer be required to take a PCR test, instead they will be advised to take a lateral flow device (LFD) test as soon as possible and continue to take daily lateral flow tests until the tenth day after the last date of contact with the positive case.

“If an LFD turns positive at any time during the 10 days, they should arrange a PCR test. Unvaccinated people will have to continue to self-isolate for 10 days as before.

“It is no longer necessary for children under five years of age to take a PCR test – even if they have symptoms like a cough or temperature – unless advised to do so by their doctor. If they develop symptoms, parents are encouraged to carry out a lateral flow test on them. If this is positive they should, if possible, book a PCR test for them.”

Dr Farrell said the rapid rise in people going for PCRs was expected “as Omicron continues to spread in NI”.

“While this shows that people are taking the issue seriously, and we thank them for that, it is also important that we protect the testing system so that those who need to be tested by PCR can get it.

“We are adapting the testing model in Northern Ireland. We want to make sure people with symptoms can get tested in a timely way for the next fortnight.”

Dr Farrell added: “Our PCR testing service is part of a 4-nation UK-wide network. These planned changes to testing should help ensure the continued and targeted delivery of the service. The number of cases currently coming through the system means that this is the correct time for these steps to be taken. These changes have been made, to allow valuable PCR tests to be directed towards those who have symptoms and who are most likely to test positive.”

These arrangements take effect from 12 midday on the 29th December 2021.

Fully vaccinated adults are people who have had at least two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, with the second dose at least 14 days ago.