Free lateral flow tests will continue to be available for people in Northern Ireland with coronavirus symptoms amid rising case numbers, Health Minister Robin Swann has confirmed.
The move was announced on Friday as new data show one in 25 people had the virus for the week ending June 24th.
The Department of Health also confirmed that the self-isolation period for adults testing positive has been reduced to five days. For children under the age of 18, this period is three. However, positive cases are advised to avoid contact with those who are at higher risk from the virus for the full 10 days. Testing to end isolation is no longer advised.
Relaxations to the advice around Covid were announced in April.
Availability of lateral flow tests was to end today but Mr Swann said that after “careful consideration” he has extended it until July 31st.
“I have always said I would keep measures under review. It is clear that after a period of reducing case numbers we are now seeing a rise in cases. Whilst prevalence continues to be relatively high, thankfully the overall risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death for those who contract Covid-19 is much lower than during previous waves. That said, we continue to see severe pressures in our hospitals and the contribution of the virus, even though admission numbers are smaller than in previous waves, adds to these pressures.”
Meanwhile, the contact tracing service has now been formally stood down.
The Public Health Agency, which managed the service, retains the ability to deliver “a proportionate testing and contact tracing response in the future should there be a significant outbreak, wave or emergence of a new variant”, Mr Swann added.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday showed a 32 per cent rise in infections across the UK in a week.
Two subvariants of Omicron — BA.4 and BA.5 — are driving the new cases, according to experts.
England’s former deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, told the BBC the Covid situation is now “much, much, much closer to seasonal flu”.