Northern Ireland news

Health chiefs say there are enough rapid Covid tests as lockdown exit begins

Lateral flow testing works in a similar fashion to a pregnancy test
Seanín Graham

HEALTH chiefs say there are "sufficient" volumes of rapid Covid tests as the lockdown exit begins following concerns Northern Ireland is lagging behind England in their distribution.

Sources say more than one million 'lateral flow tests' have been held in storage by the Business Service Organsiation (BSO) - which comes under the Department of Health - since before Christmas.

In yesterday's Irish News a leading medic called for the tests - which are similar to pregnancy tests and return results in under 30 minutes - to be introduced for families of children returning to school in Northern Ireland to help reduce transmission by "flagging up" symptom-free cases and "ease anxieties".

Dr David Farren, a consultant infection control specialist, also said they should be made available for all healthcare staff in the north given their "extensive" usage within the NHS in England.

The free tests are being offered to parents of school-age children in England to screen themselves for coronavirus twice a week as schools prepare to re-open next Monday.

Health minister Robin Swann confirmed yesterday that Translink is now taking part in a new rapid testing initiative and he plans to announce further expansion next week.

He did not however refer to testing in schools or for families of pupils.

"Alongside vaccination we are expanding regular testing for Covid-19 on a targeted basis in private, public and local government sectors. This will help us detect hidden positive cases and help break chains of transmission," he said.

It is estimated that around one in three people with Covid-19 have no symptoms.

While there have been some pilot schemes in the north using rapid testing for asymptomatic cases in schools and hospitals, swab testing is currently only offered to those with symptoms. Results take 24 hours to process.

A department spokeswoman was unable to comment on the number of lateral flow tests held by the BSO or why they had not been issued widely.

She confirmed however that "plans are progressing to deliver a significant expansion of routine asymptomatic testing".

"This will enable targeted testing for communities, businesses and emergency services across Northern Ireland," she said.

"There are sufficient volumes of Lateral Flow Devices available to NI, which have an appropriate end of life date, to support this significant expansion of testing."

Mr Swann said his department is "actively working" with partners in government and business to identify organisations to participate in an expanded testing scheme.

"Vaccination, testing, contact tracing and more effective treatments – all these will help tip the scales in our favour in the battle against Covid-19," he added.

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