Covid: Lateral flow test shift to make daily figures less relevant

DAILY coronavirus figures will become less relevant as positive lateral flow tests no longer need a PCR confirmation, a senior public health adviser has said.

Professor Linda Bauld said clear communication around lateral flow tests is key during the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, saying there will be challenges posed by a more voluntary system.

On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon announced asymptomatic people who test positive on a lateral flow device no longer need a confirmatory PCR test.

Instead they must immediately isolate and report the result of their lateral flow test to allow Test and Protect to begin contact tracing.

However those with symptoms should still book a PCR test.

Prof Bauld, who advises the Scottish Government, said hospital wards and A&E departments are coming under severe pressure, with certain types of care already being postponed.

The Edinburgh University public health professor said the First Minister’s changes to self-isolation rules are reasonable due to concerns about workforce levels, particularly in the health service.

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “If you were only considering the public health implications, you probably retain the previous period of isolation, but there are now other factors to consider.”

The daily coronavirus figures currently only track cases confirmed by PCR testing.

Discussing the changes set out on Wednesday, Prof Bauld said: “We’re not going to be able to use daily positive cases as a marker anymore.

“The Government is looking with Public Health Scotland about how we report that and we reflect it.”

It comes as another health expert from the University of Dundee’s respiratory research department said that the new isolations rules are at risk of being ‘cheated’ as people would need to be ‘scrupulously honest’ about their test results.

After the Scottish Government changed the isolation period from 10-days to seven, if someone provides two negative tests after a week, Professor James Chalmers said the possibilty of cheating the rules to exit quarantine early could happen

He also said that people doing so would beputting others at risk as there is a chance they may still be infectious.

READ MORE: New Covid isolation rules at risk of being ‘cheated’

The voluntary nature of lateral flow testing will also present a challenge, the government advisor said.

However shifting some testing to lateral flow devices will free up PCR test capacity for the most pressing cases.

Prof Bauld added: “I think there’s always been a group of people who won’t use LFTs and won’t seek a PCR, so we’re still in that situation.

“There are people who got unwell this Christmas, who just didn’t know what they had and will not have bothered.

“I think the risk of that probably does increase slightly.

“We need good communication with people around the fact that LFTs are reasonably accurate, they’re free, they’re accessible, they are tool for people to use – please use them.

“But there is a much bigger voluntary aspect here now, which is challenging I think.”

General medical wards and A&E departments are currently under strain, she said, though ICUs are under less pressure than earlier in the pandemic.

Prof Bauld said: “The pressures on the NHS are not caused by Covid, they’re made worse by Covid.

“Winter is always worse.

“And we have a system which is under a real strain in terms of its resourcing and staffing.

“So Covid has just made a really difficult situation worse.”

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