Double-jabbed contacts of Covid cases in England can now do daily lateral flow tests (LFTs) instead of having to self-isolate.
The rules about testing after exposure to a positive Covid case now vary across the UK.
What are the rules about testing after contact?
The seven-day period starts on the day they’re notified by NHS Test and Trace, and the results should be reported online or by calling 119.
If they get a positive LFT result, they need to take a PCR test and self-isolate until you get the result.
Unvaccinated adults who come into contact with a positive case must still self-isolate.
All household close contacts of any Covid cases should take a PCR test and isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status, or if their PCR test result is negative.
Non-household close contacts should take a PCR test and isolate while they wait for the result.
Close contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate and take a PCR test on days two and eight.
Contacts of non-Omicron cases are asked to take PCR tests on days two and eight.
Close contacts of suspected Omicron case must self-isolate for ten days and take a PCR test on days two and eight, whatever their vaccination status or age.
Fully vaccinated contacts of non-Omicron cases are asked to book a PCR test on days two and eight following their last contact with the positive person, as well as taking daily LFTs.
Under-18s don’t have to self-isolate after contact with a positive case, even if they are not vaccinated, although they are advised to take a PCR test.
What if you have symptoms?
Across the UK, anyone who has a positive LFT test or has Covid symptoms – a new continuous cough, high temperature, or change in sense of taste or smell – must take a PCR test as soon as possible and isolate until they get the result.
You can order a PCR test kit to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site.
However, home-testing kits – which should arrive within a day of being requested – were still available, as were tests at sites throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Who else needs to test?
People without symptoms in England are also advised to test before visiting vulnerable people or going to high-risk settings such as busy shopping centres, or places where there is limited fresh air.
They must also follow specific testing advice for places such as health and social care settings, schools and prisons.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked everyone in Scotland to test before mixing with other households or visiting busy areas, especially in the days before and after Christmas. She also said care home staff should continue to test daily, and that care home and hospital visitors would also be asked to test first.
People in Wales and Northern Ireland are also being asked to test before going to crowded places or visiting others.
How does testing work for vaccine passports?
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, unvaccinated adults can present proof of a recent negative LFT or PCR test to enter venues that are covered by the relevant vaccine passport scheme.
Subject to parliamentary approval, from Wednesday 15 December, unvaccinated adults in England will also be able show a recent negative Covid test result to gain entry to nightclubs and other venues.
How does testing work for vaccine passports?
Across the UK, you may be offered a test through your employer or school.
Anyone who tests at home is asked to report their result online or by calling 119.
In recent days some users have found themselves temporarily unable to order tests, but Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons this was a result of very high demand, insisting there was “no shortage of actual tests”.
How do the tests work?
Lateral flow tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests do different things:
- LFTs pick up the most infectious people by detecting material from the surface proteins of the virus
- PCRs detect genetic material of the virus which can be present in the body for several weeks after somebody is actually capable of passing it on
Both tests involve swabbing your nose and/or throat.
LFTs can be done at home, and show results in 20-30 minutes.
PCR test swabs must be sent to a lab for analysis, with results provided in 24-48 hours.
How the rapid tests work
How reliable are lateral flow tests?
When lateral flow tests (LFTs) were first trialled in Liverpool in 2020, they were criticised for being less reliable than PCR tests.
But when UCL researchers used a new formula to calculate the rapid tests’ accuracy, they found LFTs were:
- More than 80% effective at detecting any level of Covid-19 infection
- Likely to be more than 90% effective at detecting who is most infectious
This is much higher than originally thought.