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Lateral flow test prioritisation

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Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) are in short supply online and in retailers across Britain, just as the number of people becoming infected with Covid-19 each day is now as high as it was in January, with 200,000 people expected to be becoming infected with the new Omicron variant alone.

It is a huge concern that there is a shortage in the number of LFTs available for workers to access from Many people are also reporting shortages of home testing kits from pharmacies and other suppliers.

What are LFTs 

LFTs are used to detect if a person is carrying Covid-19, and are generally considered effective at detecting if a person is infectious. 

LFTs, unlike PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, can be self-administered, with results showing within thirty minutes. While a negative LFT does not guarantee you do not have Covid, a positive test is generally a good indication that you do, and requires immediate self-isolation.  

Covid testing has never been considered a workplace control measure: it is no replacement for effective risk mitigation which aim to stop workers getting infected to begin, e.g. social distancing, ventilation and mask-wearing.  There also remains an enormous cavity in the test-trace-isolate framework, in that millions of workers cannot afford to self-isolate owing to the ongoing failure to fix Statutory Sick Pay

Nonetheless, studies show that LFTs are picking up thousands of asymptomatic cases daily, and removing infectious individuals from workplaces, which could help prevent outbreaks. 

Which workers are testing 

A large number of workers have been part of workplace testing schemes, or volunteered to use LFTs regularly as an extra precaution. 

This is particularly the case for those in frontline roles. In health and social care, education, the postal service, fire and rescue, prisons, food manufacturing and a number of other sectors besides, workers have been using LFTs several times a week, as an additional precaution, and self-isolating in the event of a positive result. 

The inability to access LFTs will be causing anxiety among workers, and creates additional risk to everyone’s safety. 

A shortage also presents serious concerns for staffing in certain sectors, especially where it is not possible to work at distance, or where FFP3-grade masks are not provided to workers. Where an outbreak is identified in a care home, for instance, government guidance asks staff to take daily LFTs. There is no guidance on what to do where this is not possible. 

Guidance cannot be followed

The government’s own guidance says “work from home if you can”, but for those who cannot: “If you need to continue to go into work, consider taking lateral flow tests regularly to manage your own risk and the risk to others”. 

What’s more, the government has this week introduced two new rules which require LFTs:  

From Tuesday 14th December, anyone identified as a contact of a Covid case must use LFTs for seven days, including workplace contacts. From Wednesday 15th December, in England, ‘Covid Passes’ will be used in certain venues, with LFTs required where an individual cannot show proof of vaccination. This is advised, not mandatory, for workers in such venues. 

The government is dishing out advice, while making it impossible for workers to follow it. 

For as long as the shortage of LFTs continues, the government must prioritise access to test kits for anyone who is required to work outside the home, to help protect workers and the community. 

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