Changes to testing for Covid-19 and contact tracing in Northern Ireland will come into effect tomorrow (Friday) evening.
The Department of Health said the changes will focus on protecting those at higher risk of serious illness from the virus.
From Friday evening, people will no longer need to take a PCR test if they have symptoms. Testing sites will also close from this date.
Instead, those with symptoms are advised to take a lateral flow test. These tests are available free of charge from over 500 community pharmacies or by ordering online. Visit nidirect.gov.uk/testing to check if you are eligible.
Those who do not have symptoms are no longer advised to take a lateral flow test, unless they fall into one of the groups below.
All visitors to higher risk settings – care homes, hospitals and hospices – continue to be eligible for tests and should take a lateral flow test before their visit.
Those providing close personal care to someone in their own home, who may be at greater risk from Covid-19, are also eligible for tests. You are also eligible if your GP/healthcare professional has asked you to take a test.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan said: “While prevalence of the virus remains high, the risk of serious illness has been significantly reduced – largely due to the success of our vaccination programme and the use of new COVID-19 treatments.
“Transmission of Covid-19 in health and social care settings remains a risk and adds to the demands and pressures on our workforce. Anyone visiting friends or family in these settings should continue to take a lateral flow test before their visit.”
The Public Health Agency’s contact tracing service will also change to focus on providing public health advice to positive cases and members of their household. Those who test positive should continue to report their result.
Contact tracing in the wider community will cease from Friday.
Isolation guidance for household contacts is also changing. Daily lateral flow testing is no longer advised. Household contacts are asked to be alert to symptoms and should only test if they develop symptoms. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated household contacts. There is no change at this time to the guidance on isolation for positive cases.
Added Dr Geoghegan said: “At this time it is important that we focus contact tracing services to help protect those at higher risk. Household contacts of a positive case are at greater risk of contracting the virus. Positive cases and their households will therefore continue to be provided with the necessary public health advice.
“It also remains vital that those at higher risk and who may be eligible for Covid-19 treatments, take a lateral flow test as soon as symptoms develop, even if symptoms are mild, as treatments should commence quickly following a positive test result.
“I urge everyone to find out if they are eligible to access lateral flow tests under the new arrangements by visiting NI Direct. We should continue to protect those at higher risk by testing if we have symptoms and isolating if we receive a positive test result.”
The test and trace policy will be kept under review during the ongoing period of transition up until the end of June.