Lateral flow tests DO work, say top health chiefs amid fears they can miss Omicron

CORONAVIRUS lateral flow tests do work and will pick up Omicron infections, health chiefs have said today.

It comes amid fears that the devices have been missing Omicron cases in the UK.

The at-home tests can reveal if you are carrying Covid within 30 minutes with a high degree of reliability.

Dr Jenny Harries, the UK Health Security Agency's (UKHSA) chief executive, today said that data coming in shows that lateral flows can detect Omicron and other variants.

She said: "This is very encouraging. As we all work to limit the high levels of transmission of this variant over the Christmas period, we are urging people to test regularly, particularly before attending social gatherings.

“As always, the booster vaccine remains the best protection against infection. Please come forward to receive your booster as soon as possible.”

Millions of booster vaccines have been rolled out by the NHS as we race towards Christmas.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the aim is for every Brit to have a coronavirus booster jab by the end of the month.

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The Sun has urged people to get their jab and in order to help the process run smoothly, is asking people to sign up to the Jabs Army, to help get boosters in arms.

The UKHSA has performed laboratory evaluation of the current lateral flow tests that are being used up and down the country.

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It looked at effectiveness with Delta and Omicron.

In its report, it states that of 5,153 individuals identified with an Omicron infection between 1 November and 11 December 2021, 305 were linked to a previous confirmed infection and had an interval from the previous positive test of 90 days or more.

"The data so far suggests an increase in overall reinfection rates, alongside an increase in first infections", they added.

There have been concerns this week that Omicron infections aren't being picked up on lateral flow tests.


It’s likely you have already heard that the 30-minute tests are not 100 per cent accurate.

Even if you get a negative result with lateral flow, also known as an antigen test, this does not necessarily mean that you do not have the virus and can spread it to others.

Occasionally it will give what’s known as a “false negative”.

A “false positive” on the other hand, is very rare. If your test produces a positive result, is it very likely that you have Covid and need to get a PCR test to confirm it.

It has emerged that lateral flow tests could be less effective in picking up the Omicron variant, which would be a huge blow to keeping it contained.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said she believes the rapid Covid tests aren't always picking up the variant.

She told a Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday: "The rapid test still showing false negatives in the early period.

"We do have patients that waited a week and still have a headache and then they do PCR and it's positive."

One expert this week warned that you should take tests just before you're planning to meet up with someone, rather than the night before – due to how fast Omicron spreads.

Billy Quilty, an infectious disease epidemiologist at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He posted an image of four lateral flow tests he had taken on Twitter.

Two tests were taken in the morning and at lunch time, which were both negative. 

But by the same evening, there was a very faint positive result.

The next morning it was clearly positive – showing how rapidly the tests can produce a different result.

Dr Quilty wrote: “A demo of how fast you can turn positive. Do LFTs *just* before meeting up.”

The Government advises taking lateral flow tests whenever you are going to an event where you could spread Covid to other people.


Prof Lawrence Young, Virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said everyone should take advantage of lateral flow tests while Covid is so prevalent.

He said: “This provides a quick way of checking in real-time, without the inherent delays of PCR testing, whether or not you are infected and infectious. 

“The mantra should be ‘flow before you go’ – we must encourage the responsible use of LFTs before people go out to mix with others. 

“LFTs are also an important way for folk to ensure that they are safe to enjoy Christmas with their family and friends.”

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