Lateral flow tests used in the UK identify Omicron with just as much accuracy as previous strains, UK Government scientists insisted today.

Experts stated that they believe the research will alleviate concerns over the possibility of the devices being less sensitive to the mutant strain. 

As cases rose in recent days many Britons reported that their lateral flows tests were not positive. However, a PCR confirmed the results.

UK Health Security Agency used the five lateral testing brands that were provided by the NHS from samples of Omicron infected patients. 

All of the tests showed a positive result for each patient, even when their sample was diluted, showing the devices have ‘a comparable sensitivity to that observed for previous strains’ of Covid, the UKHSA said.

The company monitors how the tests work in the real world so that their sensitivity doesn’t decrease when people try to swab.

These tests can detect the nucleocapsid proteins of the virus and report positive results in under 15 minutes. But this part of Omicron’s cell has four mutations, which raised concerns that the test could be less effective.  

Chief executive of UKHSA Dr Jenny Harries said laboratory results were’very encouraging’. She encouraged people to take the test before mixing with others in an effort to prevent the spread.

These free screenings are an integral part of No10’s Plan B strategy. Vaccinated close contacts with positive cases were told to take them every day for one week, instead of just isolating. For people to be admitted into football stadiums without being vaccinated, they must prove that their results are negative. 

Scientists at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) used each of the five lateral flow testing brands dished out by the NHS on five samples from patients infected with Omicron. All of the tests showed a positive result for each patient, even when their sample was diluted, showing the devices have 'a comparable sensitivity to that observed for previous strains' of Covid, the UKHSA said

Five samples were taken by Omicron infected patients and each of five different lateral flow test brands were tested by UKHSA scientists. The UKHSA stated that all tests yielded positive results for every patient regardless of how diluted their samples were. This shows the devices”similar sensitivity’ to previous strains of Covid. 

Around 1.4million people across the UK were tested for the virus — using either PCR or lateral flow devices — every day in the last week (shown in graph). Ministers said this month that lateral flow tests are a 'vital tool' in controlling the spread of Omicron, with doctors warning its symptoms are 'predominantly' the same as the common cold

Around 1.4million people across the UK were tested for the virus — using either PCR or lateral flow devices — every day in the last week (shown in graph). Ministers noted this month that Omicron spread can be stopped by using lateral flow tests. However, doctors warn the symptoms of the virus are similar to those in the common cold.

Officials also advised the public that they use the kits in advance of Christmas to help stop the spread Omicron.

However, experts warn the tests cannot be relied upon to diagnose the disease. PCR tests prove more reliable. 

How to perform a rapid lateral flow testing

People who don’t have Covid symptoms like a fever or changes in smell or taste or high temperatures are able to undergo rapid lateral flow tests. 

This device is similar to a pregnancy tester and gives a rapid result. 

A PCR test should be done on anyone with Covid symptoms.

The NHS recommends that you do a quick lateral flow test before doing any other tests. 

  • Do not eat, drink or smoke 30 minutes prior to the test. This could affect your result
  • Take the time to read and understand these instructions 
  • Clean the area you are putting the test onto 
  • Make sure nothing inside the kit has been damaged. 
  • The test can be started within 30 minutes of the opening of the test kit  

A throat swab is required for certain tests

  • Place the swab in your mouth, and then rub it over your tonsils.
  • Do not touch your tongue, gums or teeth using the cotton swab.
  • Put the same swab into your nose about 2.5 cm higher or until it feels comfortable. 

You can only use this method if your test involves a nose swab.

  • Place the cotton swab in your nostril (2.5 cm above).

Complete the test 

  • Place the tube with the tube end in place of the swab.
  • Squeeze the liquid out of the tube onto the test strips 
  • In the instructions included with your kit, check how long you have to wait. 
  • You should wait until the instructions for your test kit say. 
  • Check out your final result
  • Send your results to the Government.

People with Covid symptoms — such as a high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss or change of smell or taste — are told to get a more sensitive PCR test, which is sent to a laboratory to be processed.

Around a third (33%) of those with the virus don’t have symptoms. Rapid lateral flow testing is used to diagnose symptomatic infections.

Around 1.4million Brits were tested for the virus — using either PCR or lateral flow devices — every day in the last week.

Ministers stated this month that Omicron spread can be controlled by lateral flow testing. Doctors warn its symptoms are similar to the common cold.

Chief medical adviser to the UKHSA Dr Susan Hopkins said that tests only are half as reliable as PCRs. But, they’ll detect approximately 80 percent of transmissible cases, she stated.  

In a report today, the UKHSA looked at five types of lateral flow tests used in the UK — Acon Flow Flex, Innova Biotime, Orient Gene and two versions by SureScreen.

The positive Omicron results showed that all three dilutions were appropriate for three different levels of infection.

Omicron was found to have four mutations within the virus used by tests to confirm the infection. However every positive specimen was confirmed by the tests.

Comparatively, 15 people with the original strain were tested and all the results came back positive. The Innova Biotime test only found 14 of these infected specimens.

UKHSA stated that the test results were confirmed in laboratory. It will continue monitoring their performance and testing samples of Omicron-infected people to verify the effectiveness.

HSA chief executive Dr Harries said that LFD testing is equally capable of detecting Covid in Omicron-exposed individuals as they are in previous versions. This is very encouraging.

“As we work together to reduce the transmission of the variant during the Christmas season, we urge people to have regular testing, especially before they attend social events.

The booster vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against infections. We ask that you come forward as quickly as possible to get your booster.

Britons are using social media to voice their dissatisfaction with inconsistent results of lateral flow tests, and challenge their reliability. 

Chris Stables of Twitter stated that his lateral flow tests revealed he was not negative three days after testing positive for PCR.

‘[The virus is]Spreading false positive lateral tests that people believe there are negative,’ he stated.

Ruske, British DJ, posted that he’d taken three lateral flow test, with two being negative and one being positive.

Helen Salisbury, GP warned Omicron was’spreading like wildfire and that people may be infected even if they have negative lateral flow testing’.

Olympia Campbell claimed that 10 tests she took in the past four days were negative and that a subsequent PCR showed she was positive.

Ryan Williams posted on social media, that he was positive on a test for PCR and negative on three flow tests. This warning is not surprising as ‘they’ren’t very good at catching’. [the virus] early’. 

And one A&E doctor in London claimed he tested negative after using a lateral flow test that told him to only swab his nose. However, when he tried the same test for a throat sample, it was positive.