Suffolk MP fears reducing PCR testing will mean 'greater pain' for country

Dr Dan Poulter has criticised Boris Johnson's PCR test announcement

Dr Dan Poulter has criticised Boris Johnson's announcement last week that PCR testing after an asymptomatic lateral flow test will be scrapped. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/PA

A Suffolk MP has expressed fears that reducing PCR testing will lead to "greater pain" for the country down the road ahead of Tuesday changes. 

From January 11, asymptomatic people in England who test positive on a lateral flow device (LFD) will no longer require a confirmatory PCR test, Boris Johnson announced last week. 

Those with a positive LFD test must still self-isolate immediately and the symptomatic should still get a PCR test, the UK Health Security Agency said.

Speaking to the Independent, Dr Dan Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, said "bitter experience" taught the UK how fast Covid-19 spreads and without enough PCR testing labs cannot find new variants. 

He also cited reports that showed only 10 to 20% of positive Covid-19 tests were sequenced to look for new variants and with fewer tests a "more deadly" variant than Omicron will not be found. 

Mr Poulter said: "I worry that allowing our world-leading testing and sequencing regime to slip could result in greater pain down the road.

"While Omicron has so far proved less fatal, this may not be the case next time around.

"Vaccines alone won’t get us out of this pandemic, and if we miss a new variant that is more deadly, infectious, or vaccine-resistant, it could send us back to square one."

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The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s not a sensible use of the PCR capacity to require sort of a confirmatory test for when people are getting LFDs.

“When prevalence is extremely high as it is currently, LFDs, while already accurate, become extremely accurate given the specificity.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted on Sunday lateral flow tests will remain free amid criticism they could be scaled back despite soaring coronavirus cases.

For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only BBC handout photo of Education Secretary Nadhim Zah

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi - Credit: PA

The Cabinet minister said he is “puzzled” by a report in the Sunday Times suggesting that their universal availability could be axed as they are limited to high-risk settings and for people with symptoms.

Mr Zahawi told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “For January alone we’ve got 425 million lateral flow tests coming in and they will continue to be available for free."

He also said the UK Health Security Agency will investigate whether the isolation period can be reduced to help alleviate staffing pressures.

Mr Zahawi thinks moving from seven days to five, if it can be done safely, will reduce staffing pressures on the NHS and businesses.

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