Testing rules for COVID-19 are set to be eased for those who test positive on a lateral flow test but are asymptomatic.

Asymptomatic individuals who test positive on a lateral flow test (LFT) no longer need to confirm the result using a PCR test before commencing their seven-day self-isolation period, the UK government have announced.

The change will take effect in England from 11 January 2022 and across the rest of the UK in a few days following this. Under the current rules, those who are asymptomatic and test positive are required to seek a PCR confirming their infection and should only begin isolating once that test has returned with a positive result.

This extends the isolation period and increases demand for PCR testing, which is under strain due to the winter surge in cases and massive rise in positive cases of the Omicron variant.

Roughly 40% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. It is hoped that limiting PCR testing to those carrying symptoms will significantly help to reduce the pressure on the overwhelmed testing laboratories, while also allowing people to return to work more quickly.

Under the new guidance, anyone in England who tests positive via a lateral flow test, should report their result on the government website and must self-isolate immediately. After reporting a positive lateral flow test result, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace so that their contacts can also be traced.

According to the Office for National Statistics, around 4% of people are currently infected with COVID-19.

“While cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFTs can be used confidently to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation,” said Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health and Security Agency.

Harries added: “I'm really grateful to the public and all of our critical workers who continue to test regularly and self-isolate when necessary, along with other practical and important public health behaviours, as this is the most effective way of stopping the spread of the virus and keeping our friends, families and communities safe.”