Covid PCR test centers will close across Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan has announced changes to Covid testing guidelines (Department of Health/PA)

Covid PCR testing centers across Northern Ireland are due to close from Friday.

This decision is accompanied by a change in the guidelines for testing for the virus.

From Friday evening, people with symptoms of the virus will no longer be advised to take a PCR test.

The Department of Health said people with symptoms should take a lateral flow test instead.

Guidelines for lateral flow testing have also changed.

People without Covid symptoms are no longer advised to take lateral flow tests, unless they are visiting high-risk settings such as care homes and hospitals or providing personal care close to someone in their own home.

People asked to be tested by their GP or other healthcare professional are also eligible.

Lateral flow tests will continue to be available free of charge at more than 500 community pharmacies or by ordering online.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan described the changes as being due to the significantly reduced risk of serious illness from the virus.

“These changes are proportionate and necessary at this stage of the pandemic,” she said.

“Covid-19 transmission in health and social care settings remains a risk and adds to demands and pressures on our workforce.

“Anyone visiting friends or family in these environments should continue to take a lateral flow test prior to their visit.”

The Public Health Agency’s contact tracing service will also change to focus on providing public health advice to positive cases and their household members.

People who test positive should continue to report their result.

Contact tracing in the wider community will cease from April 22.

Isolation advice for household contacts will also change, with daily lateral flow testing no longer advised.

Dr Geoghegan added: ‘At this time it is important that we focus contact tracing services to help protect those most at risk.

“Household contacts of a positive case are at greater risk of contracting the virus.

“Positive cases and their families will therefore continue to receive the necessary public health advice.

“It also remains vital that people at higher risk and who may be eligible for Covid-19 treatments, have a lateral flow test as soon as symptoms develop, even if symptoms are mild, as treatments should begin soon after. a positive test result.

“I urge everyone to find out if they are eligible to access lateral flow testing under the new provisions by visiting NI Direct.

“We must continue to protect those most at risk by testing if we have symptoms and isolating ourselves if we receive a positive test result.”

The test and trace policy is to be reviewed during the ongoing transition period until the end of June.