Explainer

Covid: How to get lateral flow tests in Northern Ireland and what are the new PCR testing rules

 lateral flow testing in schools
Northern Ireland has introduced some changes to the rules and guidance around use of lateral flow tests and PCR testing to diagnose a Covid infection.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has led governments to rethink testing, as soaring infection numbers put pressure on the numbers of tests available.

The Covid spike that began in the weeks before Christmas across the UK sparked vast demand for lateral flow tests.

Free lateral flow tests, or antigen tests, have been running into shortages nationwide and PCR testing resources have come under pressure too, as the UK's daily case numbers hit 200,000 earlier this week.

Earlier this week, it was announced that positive lateral flow tests will not need to be confirmed with a PCR test in Northern Ireland.

So what are the new rules and guidance around testing for coronavirus in Northern Ireland?

The Department of Health confirmed more than 1million tests have been delivered to Northern Ireland this week to cope with demand amid the Omicron surge.

Here are all the latest rules and changes to advice you need to know:

When to take a lateral flow test

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, or have been identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you should get tested immediately.

NIDirect recommends that that everyone over 11 years of age takes regular rapid lateral flow tests (twice weekly), particularly if you’re planning to mix with other people, or if you can’t get the vaccine due to your age or a health condition.

Lateral flow tests are free and provide a result within 30 minutes at home.

Everyone, who does not have symptoms, should take a rapid Covid test before meeting friends and family, attending an event or social gathering, spending time in a crowd or a busy public place, or visiting someone who is elderly or more vulnerable.

If you have Covid symptoms, you must self-isolate and book a PCR test.

If you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid, and you are fully vaccinated (had at least two doses of an approved Covid vaccine with the second dose at least 14 days prior to the contact), you do not need to take a PCR test unless you develop symptoms.

You are advised to take a lateral flow device (LFD) test as soon as possible after having been identified as a close contact and to continue to take daily lateral flow tests until the tenth day after the last date of contact with the positive case.

If any LFD turns positive at any time during the 10 days, you should isolate immediately.

If you are a school aged child or young person who is not fully vaccinated (had two doses of an approved Covid vaccine with the second dose at least 14 days prior to the contact) and you have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid, you do not need to take a PCR test unless you develop symptoms.

You are advised to take a lateral flow device (LFD) test as soon as possible after having been identified as a close contact and to continue to take daily lateral flow tests until the tenth day after the last date of contact with the positive case.

If any LFD turns positive at any time during the 10 days, you should isolate immediately.

Where to get a Lateral Flow Test

According to the Department of Health, while there is currently very high demand for lateral flow tests across Northern Ireland, there is no shortage of tests.

Rapid Lateral Flow Tests are available from more than 580 sites across Northern Ireland, including over 500 community pharmacies.

Tests are also available to order online. Due to high demand, tests may be released in batches throughout the day on the online home delivery service.

Programme Director Matt Wills said: “I would ask everyone to be patient and keep trying if they are unable to access tests immediately. We know the Omicron variant spreads rapidly and lateral flow tests are an extremely effective way to reduce transmission. Regular testing will help to reduce pressure on our health and social care services, and protect the people close to us.”

Matt Wills has also urged the public to carefully follow the instructions when they take a test as a number of different tests are now in use across Northern Ireland.

A number of new types of Rapid Lateral Flow Test will become widely available within days in Northern Ireland. Anyone ordering Rapid Lateral Flow Tests through the online home delivery service or by collecting from their local community pharmacy may receive the ACON Flowflex test kit. People who are accessing tests through their workplace may also receive the Orient Gene test kit.

He said: “There are now several different types of Lateral Flow Devices in use across Northern Ireland.  It’s vital that anyone using them closely follows the instructions in their test kits.


Listen to the ITV News Coronavirus: What You Need to Know Podcast for all the latest pandemic updates:


"All the tests currently in circulation have been proven to accurately detect the new

Omicron variant. Both the ACON and Orient Gene tests are nasal only tests, meaning a throat swab is not required. The result is ready after just 15 minutes but the result may be inaccurate if read after 30 minutes. There are other small differences too so it’s really important to check the instructions as you complete the test.”

Matt Wills concluded: “Please keep making safer choices and follow the latest guidance even if your test result is negative. The test isn’t over until you have reported your result online, and you must self-isolate if your lateral flow test is positive.”