What has changed in the coronavirus guidance for Northern Ireland

Monday 22 August is an important date in Northern Ireland's ongoing management of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Advice around Covid-19 testing is changing and access to free lateral flow tests has been further restricted. This UTV News explainer will help you understand how and why the rules around testing are changing.

What is the new advice around testing?

From Monday 22 August, adults suffering from covid symptoms are no longer advised to take a lateral flow test.Moreover, most people will no longer be able to access free lateral flow tests.

Why is the advice changing?

The Department of Health say that the advice is changing to "make testing more proportionate and targeted to protect the most vulnerable."

With the majority of the population vaccinated against Covid-19, the threat the virus poses to healthy adults has decreased.

Associate deputy chief medical officer Dr Joanne McClean said "the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are similar to other respiratory viruses such as flu".

"It is therefore appropriate that testing is no longer one of the main tools in the fight against the virus for the majority of people."

Can I still test if I have symptoms?

While free testing is becoming more restricted, lateral flow tests will still be available to purchase for the general population.

If you do test positive, you are advised to stay home and isolate for five days from the date of the positive result.

Dr McClean points out that children are advised to only isolate for three days as they tend to be "less infectious than adults."

What should I do if I have Covid symptoms?While the coronavirus is being compared to the flu, this does not mean it is no longer a serious health concern.

As Dr McClean points out, "respiratory infections, including Covid-19 and flu, can spread easily and can cause serious illness in some people."

Those with symptoms are advised to minimise their contact with others.

"If you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work, stay home and minimise your contact with others," Dr McClean advised.

"You should avoid contact with those considered vulnerable and you should not visit others in health and social care settings if you are feeling unwell."

Who is eligible for free lateral flow tests and who should keep testing regularly ?

Those who are medically vulnerable to coronavirus, and those who work in health and social care settings are still eligible to receive free lateral flow tests, and are advised to test regularly.

What is the current state of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland?

Covid is at a lower rate at the end of August than earlier this summer.

There had been a peak in cases, but this has declined to around one in 50 people having the virus as the week ending 8 August.

Dr McClean points out that Covid levels may well rise as we move into the autumn months, and "appropriate action" will be taken if that is the case.

What are the plans for the autumn/winter vaccination programme?

The Public Health Agency is planning on the exact nature of the vaccine booster rollout.

Groups invited to get a Covid vaccine will include over-50s, and those with health conditions that weaken their immune systems.

Dr McClean was keen to stress that similar groups will also be invited for a flu vaccine, and that getting both inoculations is important for induvidual and public health.

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