Changes to COVID-19 testing: Who, where, and why?

Published 21/04/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

Regular, asymptomatic testing for the public ended in Wales on 31 March 2022.

As the Welsh Government pursues its ‘living alongside COVID-19’ strategy, Senedd Members may be getting enquiries from constituents, wondering who’s now eligible for free tests and in what circumstances, how to access these, and what the rationale behind the policy change is.

Our article provides a quick guide to the changes and links to relevant guidance.

Who can get tested?

The Welsh Government has published updated guidance on eligibility for COVID-19 testing.

From 1 April 2022, people who don’t have COVID-19 symptoms (are asymptomatic) can no longer order lateral flow tests (LFTs) or get these from pharmacies. All PCR testing sites for the general public are now closed. You can now only order LFTs if any of the following apply:

  • you have symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, high temperature, loss of /change to sense of smell or taste);
  • your GP or healthcare professional asks you to take a test;
  • you have COVID-19 and want to check if your test result is still positive after day five;
  • a doctor or specialist has said you're eligible for new COVID-19 treatments (for patients at greater risk from COVID-19);
  • you’re going to visit someone eligible for new COVID-19 treatments.

In these circumstances, tests can be ordered online or by phoning 119 (this is a free number, open daily between 7am and 11pm). Test packs “usually arrive within 3 days”, but this “might take longer during busy periods or holidays”.

Self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and their contacts is no longer a legal requirement but is recommended in Welsh Government guidance. The £500 payment to support people who need to self-isolate will continue to be available until the end of June.

Special education provision

Regular testing is no longer recommended for staff in all education and childcare settings (nor for all learners of secondary school age), but is still encouraged for staff and secondary school age learners in special education provision.

Staff in special education settings who develop COVID-19 symptoms are advised to isolate and are able to access PCR testing, which is arranged through local health boards.

Health and care staff

Regular, asymptomatic testing is still advised for all public-facing health and social care staff, who are “strongly recommended” to do an LFT twice a week. Staff can order LFTs through their employer.

Health and care staff who have COVID-19 symptoms are advised to self-isolate and arrange a PCR test via their employer.

Unpaid carers

As set out in the Welsh Government’s recent 'social care transition plan’, unpaid carers looking after clinically vulnerable individuals will also be able to access LFTs through their local authorities.

Visitors to care homes

The Welsh Government advises that visitors to care homes should use an LFT (and provide evidence of a negative result) within the 24 hours preceding the visit. Care homes should make tests available to visitors to self-administer off-site, as these are no longer readily available to members of the public through other means.

Scaling back of Test, Trace, Protect

The Welsh Government’s strategy for living alongside COVID-19 describes a “phased approach” to scaling back the test, trace and protect arrangements. The indicative timescales suggest that at the end of June:

  • LFTs will no longer be available for symptomatic testing;
  • the guidance to self-isolate will be changed to advice about taking additional precautions when ill (e.g. staying at home where possible); and
  • routine contact tracing will end.

The Welsh Government describes this approach as proportionate to the ongoing risk, and one which enables resources to be redirected. The focus going forward will be on “protecting the most vulnerable and targeting efforts, rather than seeking to intervene across the whole population”. This includes:

  • protecting vulnerable people from severe disease;
  • maintaining capacity to respond to localised outbreaks, and in high risk settings;
  • retaining effective surveillance systems to identify threats e.g. from harmful variants; and
  • preparing for the possible resurgence of the virus.

The Welsh Government says it will retain the necessary infrastructure so that testing can be scaled back up as needed under any ‘COVID Urgent’ scenario.

Article by Philippa Watkins, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament