LONDON (AP) – Health authorities on Wednesday relaxed COVID-19 testing requirements across the UK, a move that could alleviate staff shortages plaguing public services from hospitals and ambulances to trains and collection garbage amid a wave of omicron-fueled infection.
The change came a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said England had “a chance to weather” the spike in infections induced by the omicron variant without imposing strict lockdown measures. He was meeting with cabinet ministers on Wednesday before answering questions in parliament and making a statement on COVID-19.
The UK Health Safety Agency has said that from January 11, people in England who test positive using a rapid lateral flow test will no longer need to confirm the result with a test PCR if they are asymptomatic.
The temporary move, which was also used by the government at the start of last year, will reduce the time people who register a positive lateral flow test but do not have symptoms of COVID-19 have to self-help. isolate. They will no longer need to wait for the result of a PCR test and then start seven days of isolation again.
“As COVID cases continue to increase, this proven approach means LFDs (lateral flow devices) can be used with confidence to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for confirmation by PCR,” said the director general of the health security agency, Jenny Harry.
Health authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland quickly followed suit, with Northern Ireland immediately making the switch. Scotland and Wales plan to introduce it from Thursday.
Epidemiologist John Edmunds, professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the move made sense.
âWhen the prevalence is high, and it’s incredibly high right now, almost anyone who tests positive with a lateral flow test will be true positives. It really doesn’t have to be confirmed with PCR, a step that not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses lab resources that could be better used elsewhere, âEdmunds said.
But he warned that the change would mean authorities will have less data on the spread of the different variants, as PCR swabs are used for genotyping and sequencing to identify different mutations. He said the change would also mean that daily updates on confirmed cases – which also come from PCR tests – “may require more careful interpretation.”
New daily confirmed infections across the UK hit a record 218,274 on Tuesday, 15% above the previous high on December 31. However, inconsistent reporting during the holiday season may have inflated the daily numbers.
UK opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer has tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss the opportunity to grill Johnson in Parliament on Wednesday over the government’s COVID-19 policies.
A series of local National Health Service organizations have declared “critical incidents” in recent days due to a staff shortage. Hospitals in the Greater Manchester area have said they will suspend some elective surgeries amid the growing impact of COVID-19 and worker absences.
Gillian Keegan, Deputy Minister at the UK Department for Health, acknowledged the tension in an interview with the BBC.
âRight now they’re under extreme pressure with the omicron variant, with the number of positive cases and increasing hospitalizations, and at this point (winter) where they’re still under extreme pressure,â Keegan said.
There have also been cuts to training services and garbage is piling up on some streets in the city due to a lack of staff to pick it up.
NHS Confederation Chief Executive Matthew Taylor told the BBC he would back the new testing regime if scientists found it safe.
“Hospitals that have declared critical incidents, for example, are essentially contacting staff on leave, on days off, or even recently retired and asking them to come back to wards, so the situation is desperate,” Taylor said. âAny way to get staff back to the hospital is a good thing.
An ambulance service in north-east England began advising patients with non-fatal conditions over the New Years weekend to ask a relative to drive them to hospital as times wait times for ambulances were increasing due to staff shortages and additional demand.
âWe still need too long to get an ambulance to patients. Unfortunately, because of this, patients remain at risk, which is unacceptable, “North East Ambulance Service medical director Mathew Beattie said on Wednesday.
He stressed, however, that “we would never ask anyone to drive themselves to hospital with a fatal illness.”
Opposition politicians and some public health experts have urged the government to tighten restrictions on business and personal interactions as omicron sweeps the country. Johnson has resisted their calls after nearly 100 lawmakers in his party opposed mask requirements and other infection control measures imposed last month.
Mike Corder reported from The Hague, The Netherlands.
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