Take Covid lateral flow test before mixing in crowded spaces during festive season, government says

People in England should take a rapid flow test before heading to "crowded and enclosed" spaces, the government has said in an update to its coronavirus guidance.

Previously, ministers had encouraged individuals to take two lateral flow tests a week.

New guidance now asks the public to also take a lateral flow test "if you will be in a high risk situation that day".

It goes on to say high risk situations are "crowded and enclosed spaces" and spaces where "there is limited fresh air".

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The advice comes ahead of the busy festive period where people will be spending more time seeing loved ones, shopping or going to Christmas parties.

The government has urged people to use the free rapid lateral flow tests, which can be collected from pharmacies and are available online.

"Around 1 in 3 people with Covid-19 do not have any symptoms," the government website says.

"This means they could be spreading the virus without knowing it. Testing regularly increases the chances of detecting Covid-19 when you are infectious but are not displaying symptoms".

Lateral flow tests aren't as accurate as PCR tests - but still have an important role to play in Covid diagnoses. Credit: PA

People who develop symptoms of Covid-19 – including a new and persistent cough, a fever or a loss or change of taste or smell – are still encouraged to self-isolate and get a lab test, also known as a PCR test.

The guidance on testing has not been updated for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Residents of these nations are still only being encouraged to take a lateral flow test twice a week.Data released on Thursday found rates of Covid-19 in England had hit similar levels to January 2021, just after the peak of the second wave, and when the country went back into lockdown.

In the past month, the prevalence of the virus was 1.57% (the same as January) and an increase from 0.83% in September.

School-aged children had the highest rates of infection while just over one in 10 new infections were identified as a "variant of concern".