COVID-19: New COVID testing measures have been implemented as PCR demand soars

To deal with the increased demand for PCR tests caused by the Omicron variant, NI has implemented new COVID-19 testing measures.

COVID-19: NI changes testing symptoms as PCR demand soars
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COVID-19: NI changes testing symptoms as PCR demand soars

With the high transmissibility of Omicron, the rate of daily PCR tests has gone insanely high. The Public Health Agency (PHA) confirmed that more than 21,000 tests were carried out on December 27 alone. The increase in demand has made it difficult for people to secure an in-person PCR slot on the websites.

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Thus, PHA has recommended people to only schedule PCR tests when they are absolutely essential. With the introduction of new changes, fully vaccinated people who have been identified as close contacts are encouraged to take daily lateral tests for 10 days. Previously, such cases were asked to self-isolate and take a PCR test immediately.

PCR for emergencies

These close contact people are urged to schedule a PCR test only if their lateral flow test is positive. Unvaccinated people will have to self-isolate for another ten days. However, those experiencing symptoms should schedule a PCR test as soon as possible. According to the PHA, a record number of persons in Northern Ireland have taken PCR testing this week. Meaning, it is difficult to provide a PCR to everyone who wants it.

According to the PHA's deputy director of public health, the testing process is changed to ensure that those with symptoms get tested promptly. Dr Bríd Farrell said,

As Omicron continues to spread in Northern Ireland, we are seeing the expected rapid increase in the number of people going for PCR testing.
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.

Even children under the age of five are not required to take PCR tests anymore, even if they have symptoms. The parents are urged to carry out lateral flow tests instead, and only go for PCR if it is positive.

Lateral flow shortage

PCR test swabs must be sent to a lab for examination, whereas lateral flow tests get results in 20 to 30 minutes. Earlier this week, Community Pharmacy NI's chief executive urged the Department of Health to increase the provision of COVID-19 testing to pharmacists. The demand for lateral flow tests had outstripped availability, but that stock would be restocked in Northern Ireland pharmacies in the coming days.

The health department expects people to take routine fast lateral flow tests twice a week, especially if they mix with people outside their family. The improvements to the testing method come after the Department of Health in Northern Ireland reported 14 more Covid-19-related deaths on Wednesday.

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