COVID testing policy put under the microscope as Omicron sweeps the world

  • Governments scramble to prevent staff shortages from disrupting economies
  • US reports nearly 1 million new infections in one day
  • One in 15 people had COVID-19 in England last week – study
  • France records “supersonic” rise in infections

LONDON / JERUSALEM, Jan. 5 (Reuters) – Britain and Israel review their COVID-19 testing policies as governments seek to reduce the burden on labs and struggle with limited supply of kits amid rates backdrop growing infections powered by the Omicron variant.

Around the same time last year, vaccines offered hope that the pandemic might be over now. But Omicron has brought new challenges, including overloading public health systems, even though – as many scientists say – this leads to less severe disease than the previous Delta variant.

The demand for test kits has reduced the supply. Queues formed in front of pharmacies in Spain’s capital Madrid last week in what has become a common scene since Omicron began increasing infections. Madrid, whose conservative government has made support for the hospitality sector a top priority, is opting for increased testing and no restrictions on socialization. Read more

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An increase in the demand for testing has caused problems in Italy and Britain. The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) said 100,000 additional PCR reservation slots per day had been made available since mid-December and capacity had been doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD test kits per day. day.

People in England who test positive for COVID-19 on rapid lateral flow device (LFD) tests will not need to confirm their results with a follow-up PCR test if they do not have symptoms, said Wednesday UKHSA.

A record one in 15 people had COVID-19 in England in the week ending December 31, according to estimates released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

“As COVID cases continue to increase, this proven approach means LFDs can be used confidently to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for confirmation by PCR,” said the CEO of the agency, Dr. Jenny Harries.

PCR tests are processed in the lab and can be used to determine a person’s variant, while an LFD can be used at home and gives an indication of infectivity within half an hour.

Virologists and experts said the move made sense given the incredibly high infection rates as long as supplies of LFD are sufficient, as they identify the majority of the most infectious people and must self-isolate.

“There is really no need to confirm (a positive LFD test) with PCR, a step which not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere,” said said John Edmunds, professor of mathematical modeling of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

But authorities will have less data on the spread of the different variants, as PCR swabs are used for genotyping and sequencing.


Israel has changed its quarantine and testing policy as part of efforts to conserve resources and ensure continued protection for vulnerable people.

PCR tests will be reserved for people aged 60 and over or with weakened immune systems, while those at low risk will be checked with rapid antigen tests, the health ministry said.

“This is an important change intended to identify populations at risk earlier, intervene and prevent serious illnesses,” ministry director general Nachman Ash said at a press conference.

Until now, people exposed to confirmed carriers of COVID-19 had to pass official tests. If they are positive, they must submit to the quarantine rules imposed by the police.

The United States reported nearly a million new coronavirus infections on Monday, the highest daily tally of any country in the world and nearly double the previous US peak set a week earlier. Read more

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday backed its week-long guidelines for people seeking to end their COVID-19 isolation within five days, adding that they could be tested for rapid antigen if they want and can access it, but it doesn’t have to be.

The agency had been pressured by health experts to institute a testing requirement after cutting its advice in half last week for people to self-isolate after COVID-19 infection to five days from 10.

Spain, Portugal and Britain have also reduced the period of mandatory isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19, fearing long quarantines could cripple economies. Read more

Ireland will drop its requirement for vaccinated arrivals to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test and will revert to looking for proof of vaccination or recent infection on entry, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said. Read more

Nearly 294 million people are believed to have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide and more than 5.8 million have died, according to a Reuters tally. Read more

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in central China in December 2019.

A “supersonic” increase in French COVID-19 infections is expected to continue in the coming days and there is no sign of a trend reversal, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday. Read more

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Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Joséphine Mason and Nick Macfie; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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