A MAJOR change in testing rules in the UK means that fewer people need to get a PCR test for Covid.
But there are over a dozen reasons that warrant a person booking a PCR test – the golden standard of Covid detection.
Here we explain everything you need to know…
What is the rule change?
In the UK, a PCR test is no longer needed to confirm a positive lateral flow test if the person has no symptoms of the virus.
Health chiefs say it is only a temporary measure while Covid rates remain high across the UK.
Given that lateral flow test results are almost always correct for a positive result, it is not deemed necessary to double check with an NHS PCR test.
If you have a positive lateral flow result, you need to self-isolate immediately.
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Your self-isolation is 10 days, starting the day after your positive result. But you can come out on day seven, if you have negative lateral flow test results on day six and seven, 24 hours apart.
When should you get a PCR?
There are a number of other exceptions to the rule-change, outlined by the Government.
A PCR test should be used to check for infection if someone wants to apply for financial support while isolating, for example.
You should always get a PCR test if you have symptoms of the coronavirus, regardless of your lateral flow test result.
The NHS lists the three classic signs of Covid as a new, persistent cough, a high temperature and loss of smell or taste.
However, everybody knows someone who has had Covid but didn’t have these typical features.
Guidance says you should also get a PCR if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive, even if you are fully vaccinated.
You may also be asked to get a PCR by the local council, someone from NHS Test and Trace, a GP or other health professional.
On rare occasions a PCR test may come back with an unclear result and you may be told to take another one.
Other reasons include that you have an operation in hospital.
But travel abroad is not a legitimate reason to get an NHS PCR test. These must be arranged through a private company.
The full list of reasons to get a PCR test
In England, the reasons for ordering a PCR test are:
- You have Covid symptoms
- You’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive and you must self-isolate
- You’ve been asked to get a test by a local council or someone from NHS Test and Trace
- A GP or other health professional has asked you to get a test
- You’re taking part in a government pilot project
- You’ve been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result
- You’ve received an unclear result and were told to get a second test
- You need to get a test for someone you live with who has symptoms (you can order tests for up to three household members)
- You’re in the National Tactical Response Group
- You are due to have surgery or a procedure (in some occasions)
Exceptions to the lateral flow test rule:
- People who are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment (TTSP) will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR so they can access financial support
- People participating in research or surveillance programmes may still be asked to take a follow-up PCR test
- Around one million people in England who are at particular risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid are involved in new research of treatments
Rules may vary between nations, for example in Scotland, you should book a PCR test if you have had two or more void lateral flow test results.
And in Wales, those who are in a “clinically vulnerable” group will still need to take a PCR test if their lateral flow is positive but they have no symptoms.
What is the difference between a PCR and lateral flow test?
The main differences between PCR and lateral flow Covid tests are:
- The length of time for results
- Accuracy and sensitivity to the coronavirus
- A PCR test is checked in a lab, while a lateral flow test gives an “on the spot” result
Lateral flow tests
These work in a similar way to pregnancy tests.
A positive result is seen as a dark band or a fluorescent glow on the test strip, with a result in about 30 minutes.
The lateral flow Covid tests are mostly used by people who don’t have coronavirus symptoms (asymptomatic).
This type of test is very good at identifying people who have the virus and are infectious on the day. Lateral flow tests only detect people at the most contagious point in an infection.
The test is not entirely accurate, meaning if you get a negative result, you cannot be 100 per cent certain you are truly clear of Covid.
A positive result is highly likely to be correct.
PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are the more thorough swab tests that can be taken at a drive-through centre or at your home.
It is sent to a laboratory where a lab technician looks for genetic material of the virus using highly specialised equipment.
Results are given in up to five working days by text or a phone call – but it is usually much fast than that.