Published: 05:00, 11 January 2022
| Updated: 15:33, 11 January 2022
People without any coronavirus symptoms but who test positive on a lateral flow test will no longer need to take a confirmatory PCR test from today.
The government is abandoning the requirement for asymptomatic people who show two lines on a rapid flow kit to double-check they definitely have Covid with a second more sensitive PCR swab.
Ministers say the move is a temporary measure while rates of the Omicron variant remain high across the UK.
While coronavirus cases are at record levels, people who get a positive lateral flow test (LFD) can be confident, say health officials, that they have Covid-19.
It is thought that no longer asking people without symptoms to confirm their Covid positive status with a PCR will both free-up PCR capacity for more patients with symptoms, while also enabling those with no symptoms and a positive lateral flow to begin their isolation period much sooner rather than waiting for PCR results.
Rapid lateral flow tests are most useful, says the government, at identifying Covid in people who don't have any symptoms.
The tests are said to be more than 80% effective at picking up people with high viral loads who are at their most infectious and therefore most likely to spread the virus to others, including the vulnerable.
There are no changes being made to the rules for those with coronavirus symptoms, which include a high temperature or a continuous cough.
Anyone who is unwell must self-isolate and book themselves a PCR test to confirm whether their illness is Covid, even if they have had a recent negative flow result.
People with no symptoms and a positive lateral flow test must still report their result on the GOV.UK website to enable Test and Trace officials to get in touch with them and trace their close contacts.
But there remain a number of exceptions to this revised approach for people without symptoms and a positive rapid home test.
People who are eligible and wish to make a claim for the £500 Test and Trace Support payment will still need to take a confirmatory PCR result if they get a positive lateral flow, in order to be able to access the financial support scheme.
And those who may be taking part in one of the ongoing research or surveillance programmes tracking the spread of coronavirus must also be asked to take a follow-up PCR if they report a positive result on a rapid lateral flow test.
While people who are aysmptomatic with a positive lateral flow test can now start the countdown clock on their isolation period much sooner, there have been no changes to the self-isolation rules since their last amendment at the end of December, despite calls for the isolation period to be reduced to five days.
The current reduced self-isolation approach means that anyone who tests positive will be able to leave self-isolation seven days after the date of their initial positive test if they receive two negative lateral flow results, taken 24 hours apart, on days six and seven.
Chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, said: "While cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate Covid-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation.
"It remains really important that anyone who experiences Covid-19 symptoms self-isolates immediately. They should also order a PCR test on GOV.UK or by phoning 119."