The Covid test crisis continues as PCR agreements for the general public remain unavailable in NI

A series of PCR deals 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 hardly any availability for key staff, while the booking website said there were no more seats available for ordinary members of the public across Northern Ireland.

And in a rapidly changing situation, there were “very few” PCR test appointments available in Co Londonderry for people considered essential workers on Thursday afternoon, and none were available elsewhere in the region.

Lateral flow tests were once again available for delivery to the home, but the head of the Community Pharmacy NI (CPNI) has warned that it may take several days before high street chemists are fully equipped with lateral flow test (LFT) kits.

Coronavirus data graphs

Officials have asked the public to use high-speed LFTs prior to social gatherings, meet vulnerable relatives or go to busy shops or venues in an effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

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

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Lateral flow tests are in short supply

The policy will apply retroactively and take effect on Friday, Mr Givan said.

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

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

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

“We expect the situation to improve in the coming days, but I do not think it will be completely resolved today.

“LFT kits are delivered to local pharmacists, but members tell us that demand is so high that as soon as they receive a delivery, they go out again just as quickly.

“It’s really a matter of trying your local pharmacy to see if they have any available or when they expect a delivery, and if they have none available, try other local pharmacies.”

On Wednesday, officials announced changes to the requirements for testing and self-insulation in an effort to ensure that those most in need of testing can access them as soon as possible.

Dr. Bríd Farrell, Deputy Director of Public Health at the Public Health Agency, said: “We are adapting the test model in Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that people with symptoms can be tested in a timely manner over the next fourteen days.

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 the daily lateral test. flow test until the 10th day after the last date of contact with the positive case.

“If an LFD becomes positive at any point during the 10 days, they should arrange a PCR test. Unvaccinated people will have to continue isolating themselves for 10 days as before.

“It is no longer necessary for children under the age of five to take a PCR test – even if they have symptoms such as cough or fever. unless your doctor advises you to do so.

“If they develop symptoms, parents are encouraged to perform a lateral flow test on them. If this is positive, they should, if possible, order a PCR test for them.”

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