FOLLOWING the removal of almost all Covid restrictions in Wales this week, a number of changes around testing have also been announced.

Mark Drakeford announced that from Monday, March 28, face coverings would no longer be required in shops or on public transport, and there would no longer be a legal requirement to self-isolate.

However, the first minister stressed that people should still self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus – adding: “That’s not law, it’s what is right.”

Also announced were several changes to how testing will be carried out in Wales – in particular the end of free asymptomatic lateral flow testing.

What are the changes to Covid testing and self-isolation in Wales

  • Monday, March 28: People no longer have to legally self-isolate if they test positive for Covid, although they are still strongly advised to.
  • Wednesday, March 30: The last day people can book PCR tests if they have symptoms.
  • Thursday, March 31: Lateral flow tests will no longer be available for free for people in Wales who are not showing symptoms. This includes regular asymptomatic workplace testing, but excludes for health and social care workers.
  • Friday, April 1: Anyone with Covid symptoms should take a lateral flow test. Lateral flow tests will remain free in Wales for people who are showing Covid symptoms until the end of June. Those who test positive should self-isolate for five full days – testing again on days five and six (or until two consecutive negative results are recorded). Only people eligible for Covid treatments will be able to order PCR tests. 
  • Friday, April 8: Routine asymptomatic testing in childcare and education settings, except special education provision, will stop at the end of the spring term.

What are the changes for care homes?

The Welsh Government announced its Social Care Transition Plan on Monday, which set out arrangements for care homes and social care in April and June.

Despite the changes to testing, frontline health and social care staff will continue to have access to free lateral flow tests to undertake twice weekly testing from the organisations they work for.

Care home workers will no longer need to undertake weekly PCR tests.

Unpaid carers who are caring for the clinically vulnerable will also be able to access lateral flow testing through their local authorities.

During this period, care homes should roll back restrictions on visitor numbers or on the length or number of visits, the Welsh Government has said.

Visitors and visiting professionals should provide evidence of a negative lateral flow test result within 24-hours prior to their visit. As part of this, care homes will be provided with free tests so they can be given to visitors.

Health and care settings remain the only places in Wales where it is the law that face coverings must be worn. This will be reviewed on April 14.

The number of ‘essential visitors’ permitted during a Covid outbreak will be increased to two, and they can visit at the same time, the Welsh Government has said.

Staff working in social care settings will still need to use PPE, but social distancing can be relaxed for social care staff, care home residents and people receiving care at home when there is no evidence of Covid-19 circulating – although this could be re-introduced should there be an outbreak.

What has been said?

Free Press Series: Health minister Eluned Morgan and deputy minister for social services Julie James.Health minister Eluned Morgan and deputy minister for social services Julie James.

Health minister Eluned Morgan said: “These changes are part of moving gradually away from the emergency response to the pandemic and beginning to live safely with coronavirus.

“We will continue to ensure we are ready and able to respond to any new variants or outbreaks as we step into this new future.

“It is important people remember that coronavirus has not gone away. Everything we do – all the small things we have learned to do to keep ourselves safe – become even more important now, especially self-isolating if we have symptoms or a positive test result.

“If we continue to work together, we can keep each other safe and keep Wales safe.”   

Deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan said: “The Social Care Transition Plan shows new arrangements for care homes as we cautiously adjust our pandemic response.

“We have spoken to groups across the sector and are delighted that we can not only ease restrictions around visiting, but further encourage them to take place.

“We appreciate how hard the last two years have been for families affected by these restrictions, with many not able to see their loved ones as much as they would like to.

“We would like to thank them for supporting our efforts to keep the most vulnerable safe and hope we can all look forward to a more positive future.”