No Covid test needed for most NI hospital and care home visitors from Monday

Routine testing for staff and visitors with no COVID symptoms this week ceased in hospital, care home and other health care settings.

As of yesterday (Monday), advice in relation to asymptomatic testing – that is testing for those who do not have symptoms - was paused for most staff and visitors.

This move is in line with the Test, Trace and Protect Transition plan published in March 2022, which committed to keep this testing under review and which has made testing more targeted in the context of progress of the pandemic.

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From this week, asymptomatic testing is paused for the following people:

Covid test kit, hand sanitiser and mask.

health and social care workers, personal assistants and unpaid carers; and visitors to hospitals and other care settings including care homes and hospices. It remains the case that any visitor displaying symptoms of a respiratory infection including COVID-19 should not visit a hospital or care setting.

Importantly, advice to test remains in place:

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for health and care workers, personal assistants and unpaid carers who develop symptoms. These groups should remain vigilant for symptoms of respiratory illness including COVID-19 and if they develop symptoms, they should test immediately using a lateral flow test; for care home residents and for hospital patients should they develop symptoms; to support in–hospital and clinical care in line with existing advice, and to support those eligible for new COVID-19 treatments should they develop symptoms; and to support the management of suspected or confirmed outbreaks based on public health advice.

Separate guidance will be issued to all impacted sectors above. Lateral flow tests remain available free of charge for those for whom testing is still advised.

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Doctor making swab nasal test to young woman in medical clinic for possible coronavirus infection. (File picture/ Adobe)
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Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael McBride said: “The prevalence of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly from that seen earlier this year. As a result, it is possible to pause asymptomatic testing in these groups at this time. This brings us into line with current policy in the other UK nations.

“It is likely that case numbers will increase as we progress through the coming autumn and winter period. All testing measures will continue be kept under regular review and measures may be reintroduced as deemed proportionate and necessary, taking account of ongoing risk assessment, and in order to protect our most vulnerable.”

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Health officials warned however that while the risk to the general population has reduced, the virus has not gone away. Some people will continue to become very ill as a result of acquiring COVID-19 which will place additional pressure on our hospital system.

Concluding, Professor McBride said: “Vaccination continues to provide excellent protection from serious illness, hospitalisation, or death. The winter vaccination programme, which includes the COVID-19 booster and Influenza vaccine, has now commenced starting with care home residents and staff. This will be extended over the coming weeks and months to other eligible groups via GPs, community pharmacies, HSC Trusts and schools.

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“I would urge everyone who falls into an eligible group to get ready for winter by taking up the offer of free vaccination COVID-19 and Influenza,” the health chief added.