Omicron, lateral flow tests and New Year’s Eve 2021: how to celebrate safely during Covid-19, according to a doctor

Omicron, lateral flow tests and New Year’s Eve 2021: how to celebrate safely during Covid-19, according to a doctor

We’ve been urged by the government to take at-home lateral flow tests before making and attending New Year’s Eve plans. But what should we do if none are available? Read this before panic ordering a PCR test.

For what feels like the entirety of December (and a lot longer, if we’re honest) we’ve waited with bated breath to see whether surging Omicron cases would put a stop to our celebrations.

And since the government confirmed that no new restrictions would be brought in before 31 December, meaning that new year’s plans can go ahead, we hoped that it would bring an end to so much uncertainty.

But with so many people already self-isolating and England’s current Covid-19 daily cases standing at over 183,000, the prime minister has urged people to “enjoy new year, but in a cautious and sensible way” by “taking a test, ventilation, thinking about others but above all getting a booster”.

However, with the current shortage of both at-home lateral flow test kits and PCR tests on the government website and in pharmacies, this may not be an accessible solution.

Pharmacists have already warned of patchy supplies of rapid Covid-19 tests, with reports suggesting that England’s pharmacies didn’t receive any lateral flow deliveries for four days over Christmas, contributing to the shortage.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association Of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been a very high demand for lateral flow tests since the changes.

“Every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy and asks for tests,” she said.

“But unfortunately, because of the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means that those who come forward for the test don’t always get it, which is very stressful – not just for the pharmacy but also for the patients.”

So what does that mean for New Year’s Eve plans? How can you ensure you’re celebrating as safely as possible? Stylist spoke to Dr Punam Krishan, an NHS GP, for her advice.

What are the current rules around Covid-19 testing and self-isolation?

Currently, in England, those who test positive for Covid-19 can now leave home after seven days – as long as they test negative via lateral flow devices on days six and seven.

Fully vaccinated close contacts of positive cases, including those in the same household, can also go about their daily lives as normal with a daily negative lateral flow test in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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What are the symptoms of Omicron?

“Many people that I am seeing as a GP are reporting mild cold-like symptoms such as a scratchy throat, fevers, muscle aches, headaches and night sweats,” says Dr Krishan. “Of course, the testing criteria remains for the original three symptoms which we see with Delta variant more specifically, which include a cough, fever, altered taste or smell.”

“If in doubt about your symptoms, do a PCR test,” Dr Krishan urges.

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Where can you find at-home Covid-19 tests?

Lateral flow tests are available online, via the government website, as well as from your employer if you’re working or from your local pharmacy.

What to do if you can’t get a test

Health Secretary Sajid Javid says the government will triple the supply of lateral flow tests to 300 million per month by February, but added that as current shortages persist “we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks”.

“If you are struggling to get hold of lateral flow tests try again the next day,” advises Dr Krishan. “Only do a PCR test if you have symptoms or have been identified as a household contact for someone who has tested positive. Otherwise do not do the PCR test.

“The purpose of lateral flow tests is to pick up the virus before you become infectious whereas the PCR test identifies when you are actively infective and therefore transmitting the virus. So doing a PCR when asymptomatic is pointless,” she explains.

New Years Eve 2022: how to socialise safely amid rising Omicron cases
New Years Eve 2022: how to socialise safely amid rising Omicron cases

How to socialise safely on New Year’s Eve

If you have any symptoms that you’re worried might be Covid-19, you must self-isolate from that moment and organise a PCR test to ensure that you do not pass it on to anyone else.

“I would strongly encourage that everyone do daily lateral flow tests and do a lateral flow test before meeting up with others,” says Dr Krishan. “You should also ensure that you are up to date with your vaccines, and if it’s been three months since your second dose then please get your booster jab.

“Alongside this it is essential that we continue to practise good infection control measures, which involves wearing your face coverings, avoiding large indoor gatherings, social distancing where possible and ensuring that you are keeping windows open.

Especially over the festive period and into the new year where cases are rapidly rising, do all you can to protect yourself and those you love.”

For more information about testing, vaccines and Covid-19 advice, visit the Public Health England or NHS websites.

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