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Health Minister extends availability of lateral flow tests to end of July amid rising Covid-19 cases


Stock image (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Stock image (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Getty Images

Stock image (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Health Minister Robin Swann has extended the availability of Covid-19 lateral flow tests for those with symptoms.

Mr Swann issued updated advice in a written Ministerial statement amid a rising level of cases of the virus both in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.

Relaxations to the advice around Covid and changes to the availability of tests were announced in April, with the minister promising they would be reviewed.

Mr Swann said it is “clear” Northern Ireland is now seeing a rise in cases and said the health service here continues to see “severe pressures in our hospitals”.

It comes as Covid-19 infections across the UK have jumped more than 30% on last week, with an increase also seen in Northern Ireland.

According to the Office for National Statistics weekly survey, around 1 in 25 people here tested positive for the virus in the week ending June 24.

The ONS cited the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants as the reason for the rising levels of infection across the four nations of the UK.

Around 2.3m people in the UK had coronavirus in the week ending on 24 June. This is up by about 32% from around 1.7m the week before, according to the latest figures.

Originally, the availability of lateral flow tests for those with symptoms was to end at the start of July. The minister said after “careful consideration” he has extended it until the end of the month.

The Department also confirmed adults who test positive for Covid-19 are advised to stay home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of test or from the day symptoms started.

For children under the age of 18, this period is three days.

Despite the changes, Northern Ireland’s Test, Trace, Protect scheme has now been formally stood down, Mr Swann confirmed.

“I have always said I would keep Covid-19 measures under review. It is clear that after a period of reducing case numbers we are now seeing a rise in cases,” he said.

“Whilst prevalence continues to be relatively high, thankfully the overall risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death for those who contract Covid-19 is much lower than during previous waves.

“That said, we continue to see severe pressures in our hospitals and the contribution of Covid-19, even though admission numbers are smaller than in previous waves, adds to these pressures.

“After careful consideration I have decided to extend the availability of lateral flow testing for those with symptoms until the end of July.

“This updated advice seeks to strike the right balance at this stage of the pandemic between reducing transmission, protecting the vulnerable and mitigating the disruption caused by longer periods of isolation.

“As we move forward together, and continue learning to live life Covid aware, I would urge people to use personal judgment, to act responsibly and to take sensible actions to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory infections. This in turn will help to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

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