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Covid testing crisis continues as PCR appointments for general public remain unavailable in NI

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A nurse performs a PCR test on a woman in her car. Credit: Europa Press via Getty Images

A nurse performs a PCR test on a woman in her car. Credit: Europa Press via Getty Images

Europa Press via Getty Images

A nurse performs a PCR test on a woman in her car. Credit: Europa Press via Getty Images

A raft of PCR appointment slots that opened up across Northern Ireland on Thursday morning have been snapped up by people with Covid-19 symptoms.

Within hours of appointments being made available at test sites across the region, there was barely any availability for essential workers, while the booking website said no more slots were available for general members of the public anywhere in Northern Ireland.

And in what is a rapidly changing situation, only “very few” PCR test appointments were available in Co Londonderry for people who are deemed essential workers on Thursday afternoon, with none available elsewhere in the region.

Lateral flow tests were available once again for home delivery, however, the head of Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) has warned it could be several more days before high street chemists are fully stocked with lateral flow test (LFT) kits.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Officials have asked the public to use rapid use LFTs ahead of socialising, meeting vulnerable relatives, or going to busy shops or venues, in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

And on Thursday afternoon, First Minister Paul Givan said the self-isolation period for positive cases will reduce from 10 days to seven days, subject to negative LFTs on day six and seven.

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Lateral flow tests are in short supply

Lateral flow tests are in short supply

Lateral flow tests are in short supply

The policy will apply retrospectively and takes effect on Friday, said Mr Givan.

However, it comes as a sharp rise in cases as Omicron becomes the dominant variant and the Christmas holidays has resulted in a shortage of LFTs in pharmacies across Northern Ireland.

Gerard Greene, CPNI chief executive, said LFT kits are being delivered to pharmacies, but demand means they are running out again quickly.

“The public has been listening to the public health message and demand for LFTs has been huge, which means supply isn’t there at the moment,” he said.

“We expect the situation to improve in the coming days, but I don’t think it will be fully resolved today.

“LFT kits are being delivered to community pharmacists, but members are telling us that demand is so high that as soon as they receive a delivery, they are going out again just as quickly.

“It really is a case of trying your local pharmacy to see if they have any available or when they expect a delivery, and if they don’t have any available, trying other local pharmacies.”

On Wednesday, officials announced changes to the requirements for testing and self-isolation in a bid to ensure those most in need of tests can access them as quickly as possible.

Dr Bríd Farrell, deputy director of Public Health at the Public Health Agency, said: “We are adapting the testing model in Northern Ireland. We want to make sure people with symptoms can get tested in a timely way for the next fortnight.

“Fully-vaccinated close contacts will no longer be required to take a PCR test, instead they will be advised to take a lateral flow device (LFD) test as soon as possible and continue to take daily lateral flow tests until the 10th day after the last date of contact with the positive case.

"If an LFD turns positive at any time during the 10 days, they should arrange a PCR test. Unvaccinated people will have to continue to self-isolate for 10 days as before.

“It is no longer necessary for children under five years of age to take a PCR test — even if they have symptoms like a cough or temperature unless advised to do so by their doctor.

"If they develop symptoms, parents are encouraged to carry out a lateral flow test on them. If this is positive they should, if possible, book a PCR test for them.”


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