Changes to Covid-19 testing in Northern Ireland
Testing for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland is changing from this Monday (3 October).
From this date, advice in relation to asymptomatic testing (for those who do not have symptoms) will be paused for most staff and visitors in health and social care settings.
This move is in line with the Test, Trace and Protect Transition plan published in March 2022, which committed to keep this testing under review and which has made testing more proportionate and targeted in the context of progress of the pandemic.
From Monday 3 October 2022 asymptomatic testing is pausing for the following people:
* health and social care workers, personal assistants and unpaid carers; and
* visitors to hospitals and other care settings including care homes and hospices.
It remains the case that any visitor displaying symptoms of a respiratory infection, including Covid-19, should not visit a hospital or care setting.
Importantly, advice to test remains in place:
* for health and care workers, personal assistants and unpaid carers who develop symptoms. These groups should remain vigilant for symptoms of respiratory illness including Covid-19 and if they develop symptoms, they should test immediately using a lateral flow test;
* for care home residents and for hospital patients should they develop symptoms;
* to support in–hospital and clinical care in line with existing advice, and to support those eligible for new Covid-19 treatments should they develop symptoms; and
* to support the management of suspected or confirmed outbreaks based on public health advice.
Separate guidance will be issued to all impacted sectors above. Lateral flow tests remain available free of charge for those for whom testing is still advised.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride, stated: “The prevalence of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly from that seen earlier this year.
“As a result, it is possible to pause asymptomatic testing in these groups at this time. This brings us into line with current policy in the other UK nations.
“It is likely that case numbers will increase as we progress through the coming autumn and winter period.
“All testing measures will continue be kept under regular review and measures may be reintroduced as deemed proportionate and necessary, taking account of ongoing risk assessment, and in order to protect our most vulnerable.”
While the risk to the general population has reduced, the virus has not gone away. Some people will continue to become very ill as a result of acquiring Covid-19, which will place additional pressure on the hospital system.
Sir Michael continued: “At this time of year, with people spending more time indoors, respiratory infections, including Covid-19 and influenza, can spread more easily and can cause serious illness in some people. It is essential that people heed their symptoms and take appropriate and sensible action to minimise their contact with others should they develop symptoms.
“It is also important that people continue to test where this is advised should they develop symptoms.
“Vaccination continues to provide excellent protection from serious illness, hospitalisation, or death. Vaccination remains our key protection from Covid-19. The winter vaccination programme, which includes the Covid-19 booster and influenza vaccine, has now commenced starting with care home residents and staff. This will be extended over the coming weeks and months to other eligible groups via GPs, community pharmacies, HSC Trusts and schools.
“I would urge everyone who falls into an eligible group to get ready for winter by taking up the offer of free vaccination Covid-19 and influenza,” he concluded.